What if Elon Musk was right to axe the Tesla PR Department?
Updated: Oct 12, 2020
So Tesla, one of the most talked about car manufacturers, has axed its PR department, causing plenty of marketing debate about the wisdom of the decision.
No communication bar the leader’s Twitter feed? Where have we seen that before..?
But just imagine this was a stroke of genius, and that of a bold communications thinker.
We are in the era of authenticity, but sometimes pre-manufactured words can skip that sentiment and overdo the self-belief. Press releases can fall into the trap of being corporate puff, what brands reveal and share becomes uniform and lacking in news, or what is interesting, and real life (which is what makes the world go round in terms of interest) is missing.
Brands are obsessed with showing perfection. And control. Yet being human is what endears us to the people, places and (sometimes) brands that we love. Things that might us laugh, go 'ooh' , or that give us the currency to share with others as a 'did you know' are the highlights of a day.
And many of us already default to product reviews anyway on everything from a region in which to live to a new duster. We are resourceful and will find things out...
This is not to say I am not an 'official communications' or PR advocate, It's my industry, so I clearly am.
But I am also a fan of reinventing things and looking from different perspectives. And for brands that are innovators, it would be inspiring to think they might look at all departments and functions in the same way.
So with a 'what if?' hat on, I'd be looking at this decision with a spirit of opportunity and originality.
So first up... the new plan, free from an on overstaffed PR department of similar talents, would use a broader cut of staff from the business coalface as storytellers and specialists in their own areas. How much more real might that be if the media had access to those on the shop floor, in the design department, in the testing lab, or amongst the test drivers?
It doesn't kill the PR role, but it actually enhances it and does different from other rivals. It doesn't remove the PR craft, because the front facing staff would still need some confidence building, possibly some training of how to avoid super sensitive areas with clear, human responses, and some story structure help to keep things interesting. The science of communications still plays a directional role, but the brand becomes much more of a 'yes we can help you' storyteller rather than a buttoned down opposite. It's refreshingly open PR...
A second option would be to recognise the value of what a cutting edge brand can show and stand for, and would change the storytelling model again by providing a stronger link to the everyday journey of an innovator.
So this could be opening the doors to a series of resident commentators/ influencers to come and sit within the business and share a reportage model of the brand. It's observational, human, delivering content that matches what real people read as opposed to corporate speak, and is fresh in showing how the brand lives as part of the everyday.
Of course there would be rules of where they could and could not go, and revealing company secrets would be well protected, but it could be authentic and encouraging more people to tune in more often to 'get' the brand.
The third option, and the one with the most sales driving potential, would be to use potential and pre-signed up Tesla buyers as the eyes and ears of other potential buyers. Inviting them into the process from day one of interest through to car delivery, sharing all that excites them on that journey, brings to life something that can be a fairly short term topic when people look to change a car, and making it a real long tail building channel. Rather than just car reviews and tests, what potential customers get is the human side of the story and the birth story of their new favourite plaything.
Of course all of this needs control, managing, organising and strategy behind it, and would be far from being Pr-less.
But for innovator brands, being real and exciting and fresh with a new approach to the face of the company would allow for a head and shoulders position above competitors.
There is lots of 'what if"' in play here, and I'm not advocating these ideas could happen overnight without some strategic soul searching and risk analysis.
But it would be better to have those conversations, than to not.
This wouldn’t be binning storytelling. Just reinventing it. And what's more exciting than positive reinvention when we are coming out of a time of chaos?