- Image: Tesla

Tesla canning its PR department is a bad move

Just... why?

20w ago

Tesla has always had a bit of a weird relationship with the media and with journalists in particular. That's something that became even more obvious when inquiries directed to Tesla's press team stopped being replied to or there would be occasional contact with individuals who were formerly involved with the car company. Now, Electrek has confirmed with a high-level source who knows what's going on at Tesla that the company has completely dissolved its PR team. Yes, that's right. Tesla no longer has any PR team at all. Zero. Zilch. Zip. Nada. No PR contacts for you, journalists!

Image: Tesla

Image: Tesla

Why would Tesla do such a mind-bogglingly crazy move like this? I think a lot of it has to come down with Tesla's relationship with the media in the first place and the rabid Tesla fan community (or Tesla cult, as some might want to put it). To put it simply, Tesla is far from the best at communicating with the media. Neither is its weird, rabid fanbase or indeed its incredibly eccentric and controversial head honcho. Where other car manufacturers such as the BMW Group and Mercedes have been very good at keeping communications going between journalists and influencers alike and forging relationships with emerging figures, Tesla has barely even really attempted to do those things. Sure, it gives out referral codes and all that kind of stuff, but that's not really influencer marketing is it? Furthermore, their PR department was always hit and miss according to motoring journalists and it seemed like Tesla was more interested in sending people on gimmicky test drives than inviting people in to do actual serious journalism.

Then, of course, we get to the points where Tesla as a company (and Tesla's fans as well, it has to be said) has reacted poorly to negative reception about its products. I'm sure you all remember that incident with Clarkson, Hammond and May-era Top Gear where Tesla unsuccessfully tried to sue the BBC over Clarkson's review of the original Tesla Roadster. There was also that hilarious Tesla Model X review that Clarkson did on The Grand Tour where he poked fun at Tesla's hot-button method of litigation even though he did also say a lot of positive things about the car; this was a review that brought the Tesla 'cult' out in force again, using their internet reach to publicly demean Clarkson in a way that in my view was plain ridiculous. Yes, I know, Clarkson is a controversial figure because of how blunt he is either on camera or in print. But (and this is a very important but!) he is also a figure whose opinion when it comes to cars is well-respected. People listen to what Clarkson has to say. So if you, as a company, treat him badly because he said what you didn't want to hear, even after praising a lot of things about your car... well, I don't know what to tell you, honestly.

There has also been all that coverage about Model 3s and Model Ys coming out of the factory with poor build quality and signs of poor quality control including panel gaps wider than the grand canyon, peeling paint, dirty headliners and so many more problems like that that you wouldn't expect to see in a car at a premium price point. As you might suspect, the Tesla crowd tore these people apart too; completely unwarranted, considering that these cars had genuine defects that shouldn't be tolerated on any car regardless of whether it's a bog-standard economy car or a Rolls-Royce. If you bought a 1.0-litre Volkswagen Polo brand new you wouldn't expect it to have bad paint, enormous panel gaps or dirty headliners. Why shouldn't you expect the same of a premium-priced technological tour-de-force like a Tesla Model Y?

Then, of course, we get to the public relations disaster that was the launch of the Cybertruck. Sure, the design of Tesla's first foray into the pickup truck world was daringly adventurous and I don't think Tesla expected every single person in the world to like it. But a scary amount of people didn't like it at all. Those problems only compounded further when a demonstration by Musk to show that the windows were armoured enough to withstand a sledgehammer hit went completely awry when they completely failed their design brief and, well... broke when they were hit by a sledgehammer. You can imagine how much people ridiculed the event in the fallout that came afterwards and how ineffective Tesla was at damage controlling the situation when there were already thousands of memes flying around about the silly-looking truck that couldn't protect you even though it said it could.

A car company having no PR department at all is a ridiculously bad move. Companies, especially big multi-million or even multi-billion ones like Tesla, need proper PR and communications. PR is how you build relationships with journalists, influencers, the media (both new and old) and many more things besides that. When your only line of contact between the company and those people you want to reach is severed it leaves the company cold and adrift in the corporate sea, looking disconnected, out of touch and uncaring. How are people going to get a decent idea of whether your car is generally recognised as good or not if journalists can't get hold of them to give them a proper evaluation except via borrowing one off a friend who's a private owner or hoping that a local car dealer has a secondhand one that's up for sale that a journalist can give a shakedown in return for plugging the dealership? How are you going to properly market the car in a world where influencer marketing is so important? It's a crazy situation and one that shouldn't be happening in 2020.

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Comments (33)

  • Maybe the PR department couldn’t come up with enough believable excuses for Musk’s behavior so he canned ‘em?

      4 months ago
  • It's marketing. Now all journalist rant about it not realising the amount of Tesla presence on the web getting even bigger. Elon is a weird man and I sure don't like him but brilliant when it comes to business.

      4 months ago
  • You sure they got fired, and did not quit? Aside from a certain President, Elon Musk has to be a PR reps worst nightmare. Tesla needs 3 PR departments, one to try and keep their boss in line, and a second one to clean up all the messes, and a 3rd to actually promote the company.

      4 months ago
  • They've already formed a cult in the world. They don't need PR anymore.

      4 months ago
  • The only vehicle with any diving soul that journalists (automotive journalist anyhow) will care about and be able to write on is the upcoming Roadster so, I mean Elon was obviously sick of people saying thing like "It's like driving an iPhone". Easiest way to shut that down is to just do this haha. To me it's him, low-key, admitting he's not really a car company, he's a tech company. He knows his cars are going to get throttled by the upcoming competition in all areas of driving feel, and that's fine to him because all Tesla & their little "cult" care about are the range numbers, batteries and the infotainment tech anyhow.

      4 months ago
    • I somewhat agree with you. I

      Elon musk has never been a car guy. He has, however, always been a businessman. I think Tesla’s will still be competitive for another 15-20 years but then they will really sgart struggling due to poor QC and...

      Read more
        4 months ago