Has Tesla Really Fired Its PR Department? And Does It Matter?
A few days ago, a leading electric vehicle news website in the US claimed that Tesla had dissolved its PR department, after not having been able to make contact for months. Another US website had been complaining about the same thing, but the original site (Electrek) appears to have had direct confirmation that Tesla TSLA did indeed no longer have a PR department, although presumably not from the PR department itself, since it no longer exists. Why has this happened, and how could Tesla possibly continue its meteoric rise without PR?
Elon Musk must be laughing at how little he needs to do for people to start discussing it on social … [+]
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Although Electrek calls this an industry first, it isn’t such a surprising move if you take a step back and look at the overall context of the company. Few, or maybe even no other, car companies have the fanatical attention shined upon them that Tesla does. There’s little need of a press release when every tiny detail, true or false, is leaked and analyzed by numerous social media pundits and websites. The fans will discover and propagate news themselves.
For example, Tesla hasn’t had to announce that there is a fairly substantial refresh of the Model 3 about to arrive, because it has already been discussed without the need for an official release. This new Model 3 revision includes an updated frunk, the removal of the external chrome trim, matt rather than glossy interior surfaces, a powered boot mechanism (or trunk mechanism, if you’re in the US), and the Octovalve heat pump from the Model Y, which Tesla claimes has improved the latter’s range by 10%.
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The high profile of Tesla CEO Elon Musk also focuses attention on every detail that appears on his Twitter feed, almost as much as the obsession lavished on Donald Trump’s social media. For example, with a single word Musk appears to have revealed that the new 4860 battery design announced at Battery Day 2020, rather than being a plan for three years’ time, will actually be arriving next year. By answering simply “Yeah” to a question on Twitter about whether this would be the battery in the forthcoming Tesla Model S Plaid, Musk has driven fans wild, causing the news to be distributed far and wide. Orders for the new Plaid will almost certainly have increased as a result.
The disbandment of the US PR team might seem like an arrogant move. In fact, it is an arrogant move, assuming it was deliberate. But it’s questionable whether it will have much negative effect, at least in the short term. Tesla isn’t just an innovator in car technology, it’s also a digital company very much in the vein of Facebook, Google and Amazon AMZN . It’s disruptive at every level – including the direct and dealer-free sales model. Its marketing has been just as disruptive as other areas, and the viral possibilities of social media have provided an alternative publicity engine to the traditional cycle of press release and mainstream media coverage.
The hype surrounding Tesla’s cars means they almost market themselves.
The revelation that there’s no Tesla PR department now in itself has been reported in many locations, creating perhaps more news value than an actual PR release could have. Tesla has continually been controversial, particularly Musk himself and if you live in the UK, you might notice some similarity with the example of Ryanair. The company’s CEO Michael O’Leary is infamous for making controversial announcements, such as the claim that his airline would start charging people to use the toilet. This never seemed to materialize but got plenty of press coverage, keeping the brand firmly in the public eye.
In the UK, we have managed to talk to Tesla’s PR in the last few months, so it doesn’t seem that the disbandment has been extended beyond the shores of North America just yet. But the cult of Tesla is a global phenomenon, not just a US one, and people love discussing every possibility for Tesla vehicles the world over, such as the prediction that a $25,000 car will be arriving in 3 years. Tesla is not just a technology company with a host of disruptive innovations; it’s also a social media powerhouse, which drives itself without the need for deliberate PR messaging. In fact, you could almost say Tesla’s media hype is becoming more autonomous than the company’s cars.