TM - Please take a class in PR 101

TM - Please take a class in PR 101

There's so much negative press about the EV future, especially now that Fisker is likely going bankrupt. This has been extensively covered by the national media, but today I saw a segment on Fox News that should have gone differently. They interviewed someone from the WSJ and it was a chance for a home run for TM, but instead it was a blooper single. The fact that TM is paying its DOE loan back five years early wasn't mentioned (the Fox guy didn't even know they had a loan), and all the B-roll was of the Roadster. While the Roadster has its place in the EV discussion, it perpetuates the myth that EVs are toys for the 1%-ers. This was not Fox skewing a story to the right, this was poor TM PR.


1) Put a fricken' press kit together that has high-quality B-roll of the Model S, along with specs, sales figures, consumer cost savings, consumer testimonials, etc. AND a summary of the DOE loan and its payback schedule.

2) Distribute the press kit to the major TV networks and media outlets, automobile blogs, etc.

Today was just one instance of a string of TM PR failures (Elon's cell call to CNBC comes to mind). C'mon! You've got a great story to tell - tell it!

jk2014 | 26 April 2013

Great point. I think TM is such a fantastic story crossing all political spectrums that it would be a tragedy if they can't get this across to the wider consumer because of poor PR.

I think a strong investment in this area will pay off big time. Sit down with Elon and founders and write down the story of Tesla. Get a team around Elon, et al.., let him get all the ideas out, craft them into something that will express his intentions to the wider public on all announcements. This is going to be a gigantic company, have to allow the fundamental story shine through everything that hits the airways and otherwise...

shop | 26 April 2013

Elon's cell phone call to CNBC was definately a low point. Rookie, rookie mistake. They were tossing him softballs and no one could hear him hit it out of the park. I'm sure CNBC was not impressed by their treatment either - made poor TV.

RD7 | 26 April 2013

As a marketing exec, this is painful to watch. Definitely a lot of missed opportunities.

Typically, this is a PR agency responsibility. They should be proactively setting up interviews with Tesla execs to get mindshare and getting on the phone to set up interviews when anything EV-related breaks. You want to be seen as the go-to people for comments whenever news breaks or a story is being written. Not happening.

Even if they were doing a great job - don't expect anything resembling reality from Fox.

RedShift | 26 April 2013

Faux news can twist anything to their preferred 'way'. Tesla does need to go on a marketing and PR offensive. Learn from Apple how to market yourselves.

Tâm | 26 April 2013

Would you want to salvage the story and make it right by accepting NYT Broder's to write for you again?

Forget Fox! It's the same class with "reporter" Broder.

shop | 26 April 2013

Guys, stop it with the Fox news bashing. I just did a quick youtube search and came up with this Fox news segment (it is old) which is perfectly pro-EV.

Tesla is a great company, has a great product, their stock is going parabolic, and their CEO is the modern day version of Edison. Properly presented, ANY news organization would love to have a segment on them/it/him. Elon is dropping the ball big time by not allowing his marketing communications group to do what they know what needs to be done.

Did you catch his otherwise great interview with Khan of Khan Academy? He was involved in excruciating detail with a $3 part supplier problem. He shouldn't be involved at that level, his management team should feel empowered enough to do the simple fix that he came up with. And BTW, he should fire his materials purchasing guy - there were so many ways an experienced purchasing manager would have avoided that whole scenario ($3 parts should be ahead several shipments in the factory, no need to be just in time for them, and then you need to have more than one source - your backup source cannot be coming from China).

Anyways, I am worried about Tesla in that I have seen several signs that Elon is not delegating the running of the company enough to his management team. Too many decisions seem routed through him. And his is complaining about it on air, which also isn't a good sign.

GeirT | 26 April 2013

Judging from the development of the share price they are doing quite well. I am not concerned. I like TM to be different than everyone else, in every aspect. It is a matter of style and integrity. Lacking "teflon" makes TM, Elon and GB even more charming. Let the media get used to them. And who care about old media anyway? It all happens here and now, on the streets and in the "tubes"...

teriyaki88 | 26 April 2013

It's a sad state of affairs. Unfortunately not many reporting agencies and subsequently the general public gives a damn about a billionaire and his company paying back a tax payer's money that they believe is undeserving. I hate to say it but not many people care.

Now if someone like Musk defaults on a loan and doesn't pay it back, then there's a story and they can and very likely will sensationalize it. That's the TMZ/Nat Inquirer mentality of the press these days. For example, if Lindsey Lohan drove to Starbucks, got a cup of cappuccino and drove home safely, no one gives a damn. Now if she hit someone or something then it would make front page news.

I'm sure Tesla has its PR crew working their tails off based on number of Elan's projected announcements and Tweets). Unfortunately unless Elan gets a speeding ticket in a Lambo/Porsche or gets a DUI on 405, not many will publish it.

I'm happy with what they've done so far. They've gotten this far by not negatively bashing their competition. Instead they've succeeded by highlighting their product and relying on positive vibes from their customers and some of the press. And when they get provoked by negative press (a la NY Times), they respond with a sledge hammer and more importantly they back it up with evidence. They turned something that's negative into a HUGE positive.

akikiki | 26 April 2013

@SHOP, Your stock just went up 20 more points on my scale. You made a powerful statement there. Nice work (as usual).

Mark K | 27 April 2013

re: Delegation -

It is self-evident that Elon delegates a great deal - lieutenants were clearly running the supply chain.

By diving into detail when the company faces challenges, Elon demonstrates an essential quality of a brilliant CEO. TM team members know they must step up when the mission is threatened, because Elon leads by example.

The reason the engineering is so fabulous on this car is that Elon understands that the devil is in the details.

He's not shy of personally confronting anything that stands in the way of success.

shop | 27 April 2013

My point about Elon and the $3 part supplier problem wasn't that he shouldn't have fixed it, but that he shouldn't have had to fix it. The management team should feel empowered enough to do whatever it takes to keep the production line moving. He should never have been bothered by that "issue" - at most, he might have been told, oh by the way, a series of mistakes led to us having to scour the Bay Area for USB cables. And by the way, for the supply crunch to get so bad they couldn't even wait for an overnight shipment from Amazon that they had to go out THAT DAY to buy cables is pretty bad management on any level.

Look, I get that this is/was a startup company. I ran one. As CEO you do get invovled in everything. Your energy, dedication and focus on customer satisfacton, and on sales, and everything else gets felt by everyone in the company and that's what makes startups so chaotic and fun to work for. BUT, at some point, the company needs to move beyond seat of the pants "planning". Managers need to have clear direction and goals so that they know the parameters they can work under as opposed to them always looking over their shoulder wondering if they are allowed to do something.

At this point, Elon SHOULD be looking to hire an experienced COO for Tesla. He needs a Steve Balmer (early days of Microsoft). Elon SHOULD be working on much bigger strategic issues and/or leading the next gen technology effort. His strength isn't in running a big company, it is in innovating, and that's where his focus should be.

Winnie796 | 27 April 2013

I really don't care what the media says, it's facts that matter. The Model S is selling like crazy and word of mouth is the best recommendation you can have. Everyone, and I mean everyone, at my work place and all my friends are dying to see the Model S when I get it later this year. I'd be willing to bet money that some of them go online and buy one because they have had a ride in it and heard me sing its praises.
We don't need the media as much as people think.

TikiMan | 27 April 2013

Why bother, when owners of $90k-150k cars are getting left on a daily bases with their lower jaws on the floor, after an MS blows past their pathetic ICE antique.

Trust me, anyone who CAN afford a MS who doesn't know the superiority of it, is in pure denial. Anyone who hasn't, can't afford one right now anyway, and that will all change once the Gen III hits!

Mark K | 27 April 2013

Shop - your point is true.

TM's increasing success will indeed allow Elon to hire a Tim Cook, just as Steve did. Tim's extraordinary operations talent made Steve far more successful. It let him focus on innovation, which is why Apple's value creation skyrocketed. I think that will happen here too.

But even with Tim's awesome ops talent, Steve always put pride into what Apple built, and was never shy about diving into details. His willingness to make a stand for what mattered defined Apple's culture. That is precisely why so many people in Apple embrace and can handle the details delegated to them.

When Elon personally inspected every one of the first cars to come off the line, (which he no longer needs to do), he was proving to TM staff, that he, and in turn, all team members - must embrace what it takes to be the best in the world.

TM's embarrassing deficiencies in communications have been one of Elon's foibles, and he knows it. But I ascribe that to load. When you bootstrap a new manufacturer, you have a lean team and you must pick your battles. The new communications director now is part of the solution, and as success dramatically expands their resources, I think Elon will optimize this too.

Regardless of the current limitations, his twitter gravity, warts and all, is not what one can diminish as juvenile skill. His mastery of that will become case study material for students of PR.

Mark K | 27 April 2013

In sum, despite the screw-ups, Elon could in fact teach a class or two on PR for the new age.

NorCal Tesla Driver | 27 April 2013

Elon is doing just fine. He is focusing on customers, not the press, and using a social media outreach to his "base" to drive positive sentiment. The stock gains in the last few weeks are a result of that effort, not outmoded, carefully crafted PR speak which is totally out of sync with new brand management.

shop | 27 April 2013

Ok, one last comment about Elon and Tesla. While this thread started about PR glitches, the underlying issue is sales. Tesla in particular relies a lot on PR for selling cars since it hasn't historically spent on advertising. Now that Elon has set direction on service, hopefully he'll pivot to figuring out how to sell enough cars quickly enough to keep the manufacturing line busy. That's my #1 worry about Tesla. But considering how well they have executed overall, maybe I should just relax and trust Elon!

Joel N. Weber II | 27 April 2013

From actually watching the video discussing the USB cables, it seems that they did have a plan A (slow boat from China, where it was a part of a shipment that US Customs didn't like some other part of and therefore delayed for weeks), and a plan B (overnight shipping) which failed because they then exceeded their credit limit with the supplier given the multiple shipments.

From watching the video, it's not clear to me that Elon necessarily was the one who had the idea to send someone over to Fry's, which leaves me puzzled as to why others are claiming Elon had to fix this problem; it may be more that people got behind on dealing with this particular problem and so it cascaded to the point where Elon became interested in hearing the story of what was happening.

I'm pretty sure Apple has had product launches where not every buyer could get a unit as fast as they wanted, and for all we know, the reasons for that may have been just as silly as these USB cables; Apple is pretty famously secretive.

This is also a great story to get out there when the US government wants to know why there isn't more manufacturing in America: if you follow Apple's example of manufacturing in China, US customs won't delay the shipments of parts to the factory where you do your final assembly. If the US government were actually committed to taking every reasonable action to encourage manufacturing in America, they would find a way to eliminate this type of customs delay.

(I would also hope that Tesla will be learning to better track when they need to send more money to a suplier to avoid exceeding a credit limit, but that is quite possibly something that the existing people can learn to do now that they've found the empirical evidence that the problem is worth solving; there may well not be any need to hire anyone new for that.)

FLsportscarenth... | 27 April 2013

Do not write off Fox because you do not like their political views. Traditional media presentation is important and reaches large numbers of affluent buyers that 'new media' does not reach.

Tesla is natural choice for those right of centre (most Fox viewers), american made and helping to reduce our deadly addiction to oil imports is a powerful play. Elon should give every Fox commentator he can get to come a tour of the Tesla Factory and some seat time in a Model S. Seeing a resurgence of american manufacturing and seeing american workers making quality products that people actually want should be music to their ears. Paying back the DOE loan early is frosting on the cake!

Tesla is not a lefty failure like Fisker or Solyndra but an american success story that everyone can be proud of...

lygren | 27 April 2013

I haven´t seen or heard any of these interviews, however I am a professional marketing guy with a Model S being build as we speak... ;)

Elons approach to market-communication is quite unique, although I do believe we have seen similar visionary, quite direct approaches before. I know people are tired of hearing the Apple-similarities, but hey; dealing with issues as directly and fearlessly as Elon does is really not a sign of weakness as some people are indicating here - quite the opposite.

Also, it states very clearly that Tesla is not like other car-companies - or other typical "corporate" companies for that matter, which is a message Elon and Tesla is eager to get out there as well...

I have attended Elon taking QA from a large, open audience for a span of more than an hour. No rehearsals, no filtering - he just replied directly to all of them without hesitation - even the quite critical ones - as well as the "engineering-grade" technical. No "pro" corporate leader would have been able to do so - and for a technically advanced and quite fresh company such as Tesla, this provides real and required confidence.

That said; taking on such a grand challenge of going face on such as he does leaves the company quite dependent on Elon in a great many ways. Elon equals Tesla for better or worse.

I personally believe such an approach is 100% appropriate for Tesla at the current time and place. However, it will demand Elon performing like an Olympic athlete for quite some time still, I just hope he´s up for it... :)

Brian H | 27 April 2013

There's a military adage warning about that: "If once you give orders on something, you must always give orders on it." That's because any and all subordinates in the chain now have an existence demonstration that they can be overruled, and may be at any time.

jk2014 | 27 April 2013

Bottom line: tesla will need to sell to the broader consumer. To sell to the broader customer the message has to be clear and compelling enough to get them to switch to all EV. Car customers are some of the most brand loyal out there. Elon's talks and interviews will not be enough to so this task in the near future.

shop | 27 April 2013

@Brian H - I had never heard that adage, but it is so true. Much better to tell people what they are responsible for, and have them tell you how they are fixing things rather than the other way around.