A new approach: Forgoing a PR team during times of crisis
After a recent crash on April 17 that left two people dead, Tesla has come under fire in the media. All eyes are on Tesla after the accident in which reportedly, no one was driving the vehicle.
Authorities announced that no one was driving the car at the time of the crash, and reportedly, the self-driving car crashed itself into a tree and caught on fire. Authorities reported the wheel was unmanned because the autopilot feature, a driver-assist program that is not autonomous, was engaged.
The automaker is heavily covered by the media partially due to their controversial CEO, Elon Musk. Yet, they have minimal communication with the media due to the automaker’s decision to dissolve its PR team in October of 2020. Since the disbanding of their team, the bulk of their statements have been unofficial comments from Musk during interviews or on Twitter. This strategy of forgoing a public relations team has left them without a point person for crisis management.
Gerard Corbett, CEO of Redphlag LLC, a strategic public relations firm, considers this move a mistake. “Tesla is doing itself a disservice by not having a communications representative or team in place to proactively advocate for itself and its products. If there is no representative, the company needs to accept whatever is written and reported about the company,” he said.
Tesla was silent following the accident and declined to comment on the accident or release a statement addressing the concerns until Elon Musk and Lars Moravy, Vice President of Vehicle Engineering, commented on it nine days later, on April 26, during an earnings call.
Musk and Moravy claimed that the car was being driven by a passenger at the time of the crash with Moravy stating, “We were able to find that the steering wheel was indeed deformed, leading to a likelihood that someone was in the driver's seat at the time of the crash."
According to Dr. Masudul Biswas, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Loyola University Maryland, “Electric cars and self-driving cars are innovations in the making. So such automakers need to have at least a crisis management or issue management team, even though they do not have a full-fledged PR unit, if a technology or innovation fails or there is improper use of such an automobile system.”
These statements from senior employees at Tesla directly conflict with the previous reports from authorities following the crash investigation. With no official statements released, Tesla has yet to speak to any media directly about the accident.
By Emily Norwood
Emily was raised in Alaska, but considers herself a bay area native having lived there on and off before college. Emily is a third-year student at San Diego State University, where she is majoring in Public Relations and minoring in History. When she’s not in class, she works as a nanny and can often be found chasing the kids through Balboa Park. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in PR for a corporate company in the Bay Area.