If Elon Musk cuts Tesla’s public relations department who don’t respond to automotive reporters will anyone notice anything different?
Musk’s disdain for big corporate media has been well chronicled for several years now – mostly courtesy of the man himself and in 140 characters or less. Fortunately for those of us in small, non-corporate media, we’ve been treated just like the big boys. To be clear, wanting equal access generally means MORE access, not less — or none at all in this case.
Why are we – or specifically me – talking about Musk and Tesla’s apparently now-defunct PR department? Well, it seems he’s decided that along with no marketing efforts, he also doesn’t need any public relations tasks completed either. Several media reports, led by Electrek, are reporting demise of public relations at the EV maker.
This is all came up yesterday when Jalopnik’s Jason Torchinsky humorously laid out his one-way relationship with Tesla’s PR team. In the piece, he talks about how he got in trouble with an editor for not trying to get a comment from the then-nascent EV maker for a story he’d written. Since then, he’s always made repeated attempts to reach out to them.
Straight forward emails. Begging emails. Sarcastic emails. Funny emails. WTF emails … and all of them in vain.
Questions … unanswered. Confirmation requests … unconfirmed. Sigh ….
The automotive media chorus, comprised of mostly middle-aged men driving mostly brown station wagons manual transmission, was quick to join in support of Torchinsky. Many relived their own frustrating efforts to get some sort of cooperation from Tesla’s public relations people, who I now envision as the same cardboard cutouts of people you see in the stands at pro sporting events these days, but sitting in cubes instead.
Being the good reporter that I am I sought to confirm the rumor about the end of public relations at Tesla. Particularly tricky if true, I might add. Undaunted I reached out today to the one Tesla person who has responded to me in the past few years. In fact, compared to Torchinsky and many others I’ve seen in top-secret auto reporter forums where we lament the slow death of the manual transmission and brown station wagons, this person and I are virtual besties because I’d heard from someone – gasp!– this year!
My last response came from Tesla’s Kamran Mumtaz on Jan. 28, where his email could essentially be summed up as “no.” To be clear, it was nicer than that, but I have parents and I’ve been told “no” before and, well, it was basically the same experience. We’ve all been there.
I’ve also reached out to Gina Antonini, who works in Communications and External Relations at Tesla, according to her LinkedIn page. We’ve never spoken, traded emails or texts before … and we still haven’t.
The aforementioned Mumtaz may actually have been the last person to head up Tesla’s public relations team. A scan of his LinkedIn page shows he’s had some high-level public relations jobs, although Tesla was his first auto pr job. It also shows he’s still employed there, but he doesn’t have a title. Just says he works at Tesla. Could be working on the line now. Could be working security with the deletion of the pr team.
I don’t know … because I still haven’t heard back.
To be clear, automotive media types are a pretty lucky group. We drive nice vehicles occasionally (or often), we get fed well on a regular basis and the pr folks at every other automaker generally treat us pretty good. Many of them are former reporters and they understand that fair criticism is part of the deal. If they feel you’ve been unfair, they’ll call and you can hash it out, but petulant behavior by angry executives is rare because their pr folks generally let them know what’s coming in advance and remind them that, well, fair criticism is part of journalism — the good, helpful part of journalism. Suck it up buttercup.
Musk has decided he doesn’t need to a pr team to help out reporters who are just gonna be unfair to him and his company anyway. If I had a few minutes with him, aside from asking him for the $1 million money clip I’m almost certain he carries in his pocket, I’d remind him that it’s hard to report the entire story without all the information and, believe it or not, we value automaker input — and that, well, fair criticism is part of journalism — the good, helpful part of journalism.
But, I have children and understand how they behave (kind like that last clause!) so I know what the response will be. So for now, I guess we’ll all have to suck it up, buttercup.