Would having a traditional PR department help Tesla rise against misinformation campaigns?

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Posted on EVANNEX on June 02, 2021 by Denis Gurskiy

Tesla, contrary to conventional corporate wisdom, refuses to offer the media access to a PR department. Such a department doesn't exist. After dissolving the company's PR team last year, Tesla became the first automaker to attempt such an audacious move. Elon Musk sees corporate PR as unnecessary. But what if he's wrong?

Above: A look at the Tesla Model S and Model X (Source: Tesla)

Throughout the years, Tesla has been one of the most talked-about automakers. Elon boldly pushed through adversity and revolutionized the auto industry as we know it. Yet there remains a clear media bias that continually trumpets one of the most misleading automotive narratives to ever exist. Depending on your mainstream media 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. And, for a lot of reasons, it’s well deserved. Clicks generate income and (sadly) everyone wants to read a story of failure over success.

With massive change, you’ll often find haters. Bold moves and disruptive actions within an all-too-conservative, traditional auto industry have shined a light, that's often too bright, on Tesla. Self-driving features, advanced software updates, and cloud-connected vehicles can just be too much for some to grasp.

By no means is Tesla above criticism but PR is not just about a defense — it’s a voice. And sometimes it’s a voice of clarity that can combat the overwhelming amount of misguided and (often) misinformed journalists out there. So is Tesla wrong to turn its back on any PR efforts?

Before answering that, let's take a step back and answer the question: what exactly 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 the world of media, PR teams are tasked with breaking stories to journalists. Also, PR staffers are tasked with clarifying situations, adding yet-to-be-heard facts, or simply verifying the information as factual. Unusual crashes, software glitches, and (yes) panel gaps often get blown way out of proportion by writers trying to take a shot at the company. 

In a media environment that celebrates negativity, Elon recommends focusing on citizen journalism and respected, ethical writers who give Tesla a fair shake. Things like battery fires and drivers abusing Autopilot are often misreported — and not put in proper context. This hurts Tesla and, ultimately, the company's mission to transition the world to electric cars and a green, more sustainable future.

While the bulk of the problem lies in rampant media misinformation, if there's no one on Tesla's PR staff to correct the FUD (fear uncertainty, and doubt), the truth often gets buried in lies.

Okay, Tesla does have its CEO, Elon Musk. And Elon Musk does have over 50 million Twitter followers and can refute the FUD. But not everyone is glued to Elon's Twitter feed 24/7. And, he's busy posting memes about dogecoin anyway.

And, sure... Tesla publishes comprehensive safety reports defending itself against damaging disinformation. But it’s simply not enough when the live feed of breaking news comes and goes as quickly as it does nowadays. Is that the fault of poor journalism? Probably. But choosing to ignore it altogether only promotes the spread of said misinformation. If you don’t like what’s being said, it probably pays to say something.

That said, this is not the view of Elon Musk. In his own words, Elon sees PR as “manipulating public opinion”.

Okay, let's play devil's advocate here. With an active Tesla PR team perhaps the company can prevent some misinformation and better control the narrative. Without public relations, Tesla will continue to receive bad press built on assumptions and opinions over hard facts and evidence. Or not. Only time will tell.

The media will always have bias. However, verified facts (courtesy of Tesla's PR department) alongside a negative bias could help pivot the narrative... at least some of the time. 

Granted, Tesla does not need PR right now. 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? Why not have your side of the story voiced and key facts shared with the media?

Whether corporate communications — via PR — fix perceptions or not, trying is always better than not.

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An earlier version of this article appeared on EVBite. EVBite is an electric vehicle specific news site dedicated to keeping consumers up-to-date on any developments in the ever-expanding EV landscape.

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