By on October 6, 2020

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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21 Comments on “Communication Breakdown: Tesla Dissolved U.S. Media Relations Team...”

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Elon Musk to auto journos

    “No shrimp for you”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Other automakers will at least provide you with a boilerplate corporate response — assuming they haven’t issued one already.”

    So you prefer BS on a platter.

    Your complaint here is the same as the one about quarterly numbers reporting – started by Tesla, and adopted by many. You prefer poor information over no information, or worse, having to dig for information.

    Tesla doesn’t do auto shows and doesn’t advertise, which shows how worthless those venues can be. The bitter media gives them all the press they need, except that 6 days into October TTAC still hasn’t mentioned Tesla’s record Q3.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      I know you’re an avid fan of the brand but get real with this comment. You’re here often enough to know we spend all day having to decode PR speak into the closest approximation of truth possible and avoid favoritism or bribery. Tesla is constantly being praised here for being the only EV brand worth a damn and then condemned for pioneering unsavory business practices.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        @Matt: You haven’t made any point with that reply.

        What’s better: decoding mfr BS to determine the ‘truth’, or figuring out the truth via other means? Mr Musk tweets continuously, and that has provided plenty of data for TTAC to decipher.

        I’m no fan of Tesla’s “unsavory business practices”, but dissolving their PR department isn’t one of them, and neither is reporting sales on a quarterly basis.

    • 0 avatar

      “Tesla doesn’t do auto shows and doesn’t advertise, which shows how worthless those venues can be.”

      How much free press does Tesla get? Quite a bit. Try to at least be a bit objective.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        I agree with you about Tesla’s free press, but that has no relation to my objectivity or lack of it related to auto shows. Auto shows have become nearly worthless outlets for mfrs, which is why so many mfrs have been withdrawing from them for years.

        • 0 avatar

          “free press”

          If one knows how to stir up controversy then they’ll get plenty of free press. I read somewhere that Commander COVID has gotten around 2 billion worth of free press.

  • avatar

    All communication from Tesla is in the form of leaked internal memos. Leaks like a sieve!

  • avatar

    Musk has Twitter thus he doesn’t need a PR team, he can do crazy all by himself whenever the mood strikes. Maybe he learned this tactic from someone else?

  • avatar

    I was always under the impression that Tesla PR was done by owners. I’ve been pinned at enough social functions once I out myself as a car geek and “you have a Tesla ? really ?”…..Do they also require you to buy stock ?

  • avatar

    Who reads press anymore? I listen to bloggers sometimes because it is fun. If I want to know “news” I open Google News app on my phone and ignore established news sources like NYT and WP because they are proven liars. And my attention span is no more than 1 minute. They have only 1 minute to tell me news, after that I skip to the next source. I do not give a sh!t about “opinions” of poorly educated “journalist” who has no clue what they are talking about. I would be better served listening to trusted bloggers.

    • 0 avatar

      “Trusted bloggers”.
      What kinda dystopian BS is that?
      A blogger is someone who engages in sensationalism and exaggeration – and lies – to get you to listen. Facts aren’t important, but you coming back for more is paramount.

    • 0 avatar

      Those that tend to deny everything about COVID-19 and almost every other major issue get their misinformation from social media. Social media news seekers account for 1/4 of the population in Canada and 62% in the USA. If one looks at success with containing SARS-CoV-2, it fits.

    • 0 avatar

      I hope you’re being sarcastic, because nobody would graduate from 6th grade social studies with that lazy and irrational attitude.

  • avatar

    Automotive news journalists should be concerned. We see car shows being cancelled because car companies don’t see the value. Musk and Tesla aren’t bothering with traditional approaches. Over the last four years the USA has seen massive attacks on “traditional” media outlets i.e. fake news. If other car companies feel that they can get more bang for the buck on social media then traditional automotive journalism will be trouble.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Sounds like they eliminated a department that wasn’t providing any value; good for them.

    Tesla is very much following the Apple model: Streamlined product line, no trade shows, no sponsoring of events, and let the product speak for itself.

  • avatar

    “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.

  • avatar

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

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