Tesla, a massive automotive technology conglomerate with hoards of resources refuses to house something as common as a PR department. After dissolving their PR team late last year, they became the first automaker to avoid press altogether. Elon Musk sees the concept as unnecessary but I beg to differ.
A Poor Experience
Throughout the years, Tesla stood as one of the most talked-about automakers. From nothing to something, Elon Musk pushed through the doubt and forever revolutionized the industry as we know it. The skepticism and exposed shorts created a clear media bias that stands today as one of the most misleading automotive narratives to ever exist. Depending on your mainstream source, with every Tesla “fact”, lies a lie beneath.
The company has battled through years of negative narratives, misleading statements, and blatant misinformation. There’s no question as to why Elon Musk feels the need to shun the media, for a lot of groups, it’s well deserved. Clicks generate income and everyone wants to read the story of failure over success.
With change, you’ll find animosity. Bold claims and even bolder advancements have shined a fitting light to Tesla’s corporate movements. Eventual self-driving cars and cloud-connected vehicles are just too much for some to grasp.
Historically, reality eventually outweighs the apprehension but through the path forward the fight remains.
Taking a step back to a past with an active Tesla PR team and you’ll note that the reluctance to focus on PR today is nothing new.
The company has always dealt a lack of transparency with last-minute changes and little to no clarification. Tesla’s choice to make significant revisions to their lineup on a whim has granted them the opportunity for increased exponential growth while disregarding the thoughts of their initial supporters.
By no means is Tesla above criticism but PR is not a defense, it’s a voice. It’s a voice of clarity against the heaps of misguided and misinformed journalists.
What is PR?
Strictly by definition, PR, or Public Relations is defined as followed:
the professional maintenance of a favorable public image by a company or other organization or a famous person.
In media, PR teams are contacted with just about every new breaking story. Clarifying situations, adding yet-to-be-heard information, or more simply verifying the information as factual. There’s a distinct separation between opinions, assumptions, and facts. Facts can sometimes hold fiction with the extended information being withheld. We saw a clear example of this with the recent Houston crash.
After a fatal Tesla crash, news broke from local law enforcement that the car was being driven under Autopilot with no one behind the wheel. Without a Tesla PR team to clarify, the news spread as-is with only the verified statements of those involved on hand.
It took the company a week to add to the evidence. Through their investigation with the NHTSA and local police, it was determined that there was indeed a person behind the wheel. Seatbelts were found to be unbuckled meaning Autopilot could not be activated. To add, data logs confirmed Autopilot as not being active and the FSD package not being purchased on the vehicle in question.
While this overall clears Tesla from responsibility (an argument of its own), the damage had already been done. A week of Big Media sharing the message of Autopilot and Tesla’s evils spread to the ears and eyes of those out of the loop.
Elon’s Solution is Dumb
In a world focused on divided narratives, Elon sees it best to focus on individual journalism. Follow those in the know rather than those selling assumptions built on confirmation bias. While there’s nothing to disagree with here, withholding corrective information from a company level is only harmful to both Tesla and EVs as a whole.
Things like battery fires and autonomous crashes are reported regularly leaving a bad taste for those considering a transition towards a sustainable vehicle. While the bulk of it lies on misinformation, with no one powerful enough to correct the statements the truth goes unheard.
Sure, Tesla has actively published quarterly safety reports defending themselves against the disinformation but it’s simply not enough when the live feed of breaking news comes and goes as quick as it does. Is that the fault of poor journalism? More than likely. But choosing to ignore your defense only promotes the spread of said misinformation. If you don’t like what’s being said, say something.
Tesla’s fans have built an informative community of those who simply know better. Through better knowledge of the subject that is Autopilot and FSD, they were able to debunk claims of a driverless Tesla in the Houston incident early on. These communities work well on a small scale but the reality is, the average person is still gathering their knowledgebase from mainstream media.
In his own words, Elon sees PR as “manipulating public opinion”.
Other companies spend money on advertising & manipulating public opinion, Tesla focuses on the product.
I trust the people.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 27, 2021
Disbanding PR altogether rather than doing better is not a solution. Sticking to facts is not only better PR, it’s preferred.
Too much ambiguity is far from a net positive. With an active Tesla PR team not only can the company prevent misinformation, but they can control the factual narratives. Without public relations, Tesla will continue to receive bad press built on assumptions and opinions over evidence.
A PR team can be more than a defense, it can be an attack of truth. Through multiple angles, PR teams help both consumers and media trying to get accurate information to those seeking it.
The media and general public will always have bias but factual information alongside a negative bias will always be better than misleading headlines built on assumptions. Tesla’s PR today consists of rampant misinformation spread throughout with Elon Musk himself correcting what he happens to stumble upon on Twitter.
I’m not asking for much, just better access to clarity. Tesla’s production continues to break records regardless of growing negative public perception. By no means is a PR department a requirement for a company that’s still selling more cars than they can physically build, but what’s the harm? There’s simply no detriment to having your side of the story and additional facts shared with the media.
Whether the company statements fix perception or not, trying is always better than not.