Wrong turn: Four reasons why Tesla ditching its PR team may backfire

Earlier this week, Tesla, the world’s most highly valued automaker, made the audacious decision to apparently dissolve its company-wide PR department.

Mistrust, misinformation and missed opportunities will be the result of ditching the PR team, warns Brendon Craigie
Mistrust, misinformation and missed opportunities will be the result of ditching the PR team, warns Brendon Craigie

In an industry first, the company spearheaded by Elon Musk will become the first carmaker to shut itself off entirely from direct communication with the media.

Musk – a perennial critic of the press – has always been incredibly scathing of Tesla’s news coverage.

Now, as opposed to a global team of communication professionals acting as the company’s intermediaries with journalists, the sole “official” channel for product promotion will be Tesla’s corporate, and Musk’s personal, social-media accounts.

In typically swashbuckling Tesla fashion, this is nothing short of a daring move.

However, unlike previous fruitful gambles, here are four reasons why this strategy could rattle the automaker’s reputational chassis.

Misinformation, misinformation, misinformation

As accurate information about Tesla will no longer be proactively shared with journalists, this will inevitably lead to more erroneous facts about the company in the public domain. Without a central PR function to provide, address and mediate external information about the automaker, Musk is leaving an enormous amount open to interpretation.

Innovators may be commended, but arrogance is never welcomed

Tesla superfans will no doubt herald this decision as another Elon Musk masterstroke. However, by dispensing with the team fundamentally responsible for engaging with the free press, this development smacks of a company that isn’t open to objective criticism. A lack of receptiveness to impartial checks and balances not only suggests a great degree of arrogance, but also overlooks a valuable opportunity to learn.

Being less open implies you have something to hide

Being perceived to be adopting more covert tactics inherently creates the perception that there’s a reason for them. Why is Musk so unwilling to engage with journalists? Does he think he’s above them, or is he trying to keep what they know to a minimum? By not being transparent, questions are bound to arise about the rationale behind this decision and sow even more seeds of doubt into people’s minds (even when they are unjustified).

Prospective customers may be deterred

An unwillingness to engage with the media means fewer journalist reviews of the company’s cars, which, in turn, means fewer publicly available independent assessments of the Tesla driving experience. Earned media remains the most universally trusted means of consuming content. By limiting engagement with it, this severely inhibits a potential customer’s ability to make an informed purchase – and may even drive them away altogether.

The tech sector is increasingly under attack for an apparent lack of openness and consistent veiled secrecy.

But, worse still, it is also repeatedly accused of being out of touch with the real world.

In this context, cutting off one of the main channels through which you can address and counter these criticisms feels like a wrong turn.

Brendon Craigie is co-founder and managing partner of Tyto

Thumbnail credit: Getty

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