3 minute read

Why Elon Musk shouldn’t have dropped his PR team

Elon Musk is never far from the news, and not always for the most positive reasons. This is why it was a surprise to see the Tesla and PayPal founder letting his only public relations employee at X depart earlier this month. But what impact could that have, and why is PR a must-have in the modern day?

Musk stumbles from controversy to controversy, if it’s not renaming and adapting an already successful social media platform and making things objectively worse, then it’s his tendency to make bold and often divisive statements. That makes it even more surprising that, earlier this month, Musk allowed the only person at X who was responsible for handling PR and press, to leave the organisation. Joe Benarroch was also head of business operations at the platform and someone who has been fighting against the tide as his former boss seemed only too keen to put his foot in his mouth at every opportunity. Musk was also responsible for dismantling the organisation’s corporate communications team; specialists who could have managed X’s ailing external image. This has only been worsened by his fondness for making damaging statements, like when he told departing advertisers to ‘go f--- themselves’ and accused them on his platform of ‘blackmail.’

Managing crises

PR is important for everyone, and for a company like X that seems to move from crisis to crisis, it’s absolutely crucial. Given his tendency to make controversial statements, PR can act as an effective blocker to mitigate any public backlash that may arise from Musk’s activities, statements or from other causes.

The extent and reach of Musk’s personal channels mean that his output is still reaching the public, but a lack of PR means that his target consumers are also more exposed to his often-bizarre messaging. Having a talented and strategic public relations team in place can act as a buffer between Musk and the wider world, and help to shape and dilute some of his more confused messages, into more coherent and strategic themes that won’t have the same negative impact.

In 2018, Musk's infamous tweet about taking Tesla private led to an SEC investigation and a significant stock drop, and public backlash. Adept PR professionals can help to navigate such situations by crafting clear, strategic communication plans that pre-empt misunderstandings and provide damage control and limitation when necessary.

In the fast-paced and often high-stakes world of technology and business, crises are inevitable. Whether it's a failed rocket launch, a major product recall, or controversial public statements, how these issues are managed can significantly affect a company's reputation. PR is essential for developing and executing crisis management plans that reduce potential damage while maintaining public confidence.

Musk has faced numerous crises, from production challenges at Tesla to ongoing controversies surrounding his behaviour. A strong PR team helps navigate these situations by quickly disseminating accurate information, addressing concerns, and demonstrating accountability. Effective crisis management not only protects the brand but can also turn a potential disaster into an opportunity for demonstrating resilience and commitment to improvement.

However, PR isn’t just used to hide bad stories, its value also comes in promoting successes, milestones and future plans through compelling storytelling and messaging.

Elon Musk's brand – and that of most of his companies - is synonymous with innovation and pushing the boundaries of what is possible. PR plays a vital role in reinforcing this image by ensuring that the narrative around his ventures stays focused on their ground-breaking nature and long-term potential. Highlighting success stories, milestones, and future plans through various media channels and messages helps keep the public and stakeholders excited and engaged.

Shaping messaging

PR can also help you to effectively shape and control messaging and sentiment around your organisation. This is critical in building trust. And considering that Musk’s ventures include the likes of electric vehicles, space exploration, and renewable energy — industries that are all already facing scepticism and regulatory scrutiny — building and maintaining public support is paramount. Effective PR strategies, and the right talent, can help highlight the credibility and reliability of his and any businesses, reinforcing confidence among investors, customers, and the general public.

Boosting hiring

PR also has other, less obvious, benefits. Few engineers would likely choose to work for X at the moment as a result of its high turnover and the seemingly constantly changing – and divisive - environment. However, the impact of company activities on future recruitment and retention could be mitigated through PR. The success of all of Musk's ambitious projects relies heavily on attracting and retaining top talent, until the robot revolution arrives, at least. PR plays a significant role in shaping the company culture and public image that potential employees can find appealing. By highlighting the innovative and mission-driven nature of his ventures, PR helps position Musk's companies as more desirable places to work than they currently are.

Stories about ground-breaking projects, employee testimonials, and the unique work environment can all be shared through various media channels to attract skilled professionals who are inspired by Musk's vision. And maintaining a positive public image can help to retain existing talent by fostering pride and loyalty among employees.

There are many more reasons why PR is key; it can help organisations to influence public policy and regulation, cultivate investor relations, expand global reach, support broader marketing efforts and foster community engagement, amongst much more. While it’s probably fair to say that the world’s second-richest man knows what he is doing, unless he replaces his PR guru quickly, he has probably made a significant mistake.

Bruce CallanderAuthor: Bruce Callander

With over a decade’s experience in PR, marketing and communications, Bruce develops and executes media relations, content and social media strategies for firms in the recruitment and hiring industries, as well as suppliers to those sectors and other organisations both in the UK and internationally.

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