Communication Breakdown: Tesla Dissolved U.S. Media Relations Team

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
communication breakdown tesla dissolved u s media relations team

Tesla Inc. has reportedly disbanded its U.S. media relations team in the United States, fitting since the only journalists that seem to have any direct contact with the company suffer from a condition where they unquestionably praise its products and business model. While access journalism appears to be on the rise in all industries, the automotive realm was relatively free of the phenomenon until fairly recently. Now its getting to a point where just finding someone in the PR department to respond to you within 48 hours is a minor miracle — and it makes little difference whether you’re one of the big boys or a smaller outfit, like ours.

While Tesla used to be wildly proactive in reaching out to authors, sometimes just to complain about articles, it’s been enacting radio silence for quite some time. Other automakers will at least provide you with a boilerplate corporate response — assuming they haven’t issued one already. But it has been complete static from Tesla for what feels like years, leaving the firm little reason to continue paying people whose sole responsibility was to totally ignore the media.

Considering the sad state of modern-day journalism, we’d almost be willing to take Tesla’s side on this one. But the company has been involved in far too much bullshit for it not to be taken to task on occasion and CEO Elon Musk frequently says things that leave us scratching our heads.

All was made clear on Tuesday, however, as Electrek reported the automaker no longer has a PR team. The outlet had noticed numerous publications bemoaning how it had been months since they’d gotten any responses from the all-electric brand and reached out to an inside source that said nobody was even working in media relations anymore.

From Electrek:

Keely Sulprizio, the last person known to officially be in charge of PR/communications at Tesla, left the automaker in December of last year to join Impossible Foods. Following her departure, virtually every other member of Tesla’s PR team either left or moved to other positions at Tesla.

After Sulprizio, Alan Cooper was the most senior member of Tesla’s communications team, and in February, his role was changed to director of demand generation, but he has now apparently left the company.

Gina Antonini, a senior manager on Tesla’s comms team for three years, saw her role changed to director of external relations and employee experience at Tesla in February.

It just keeps going on like that, with every PR person being promoted to another department or leaving the automaker for greener pastures. While supremely disappointing, it doesn’t actually change much in regard to the Tesla’s relationship with the media.

Elon Musk has repeatedly expressed his general distaste for the press, which he believes treats Tesla far too harshly. But it has also become clear that the business isn’t interested in playing with anyone that’s not keen on supporting its corporate messaging. Granted, all automakers want you to say things that makes their marque come off as the industrial embodiment of perfection. But most will still cooperate if you fail to repeat their press releases verbatim with a plastered on smile.

That relationship seems to be weakening as well. But not at a pace where we expect legacy automakers to similarly disband their PR teams. It would be a huge risk for them to take, especially since they’re magnitudes larger than Tesla Motors and lack its hardcore fan base. On a longer timeline, this may not pan out well for Musk and company either. Leaving the media to make up its own mind about something seems a dangerous game, especially as the hype for this particular brand dies down. But there’s little sign of that happening presently, making it seem a semi-valid strategy for now.

[Image: Welcomia/Shutterstock]

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3 of 21 comments
  • Don1967 Don1967 on Oct 07, 2020

    "Elon Musk has repeatedly expressed his general distaste for the press, which he believes treats Tesla far too harshly." Elon Musk sounding like Donald Trump is so good it must be fattening. Better hold the butter on that bowl of popcorn.

    • HotPotato HotPotato on Oct 07, 2020

      The two have a surprising number of personality traits in common. The primary difference is that Musk actually IS as smart as he thinks he is.

  • Indi500fan Indi500fan on Oct 07, 2020

    When your Tesla roof goes flying off on the interstate, don't expect a comment from PR.

  • 28-Cars-Later Wrangler people are crazy.
  • 28-Cars-Later "Transition" to layoffs, this guy is the Bob(s) from Office Space.
  • Vap65689119 As a release engineer I also worked in quality, if they are serious they should look at Toyotas business model which has their suppliers as genuine partners, thats how you get a quality product
  • Mike-NB2 I seem to have landed in an alternate universe. $12,000 for a Jeep that's going on a quarter-century old and with an automatic transmission? Wow.
  • Stuart de Baker This driver wants physical knobs and buttons that are easy to use while keeping eyes on the road, and does not want effin screens that require eyeballs to be taken off of roads, mfgs be damned.