If you work in media and cover Tesla you've probably encountered Tesla's reluctance to engage on any terms other than its own. We've sent multiple emails into the Tesla public relations void in the hopes of getting comment on stories, even if only a boilerplate response. We've never received a thing. At least we know we needn't bother trying anymore, because Electrek reports the electric vehicle manufacturer has shut down its PR division completely.
Tesla has always had a complicated relationship with the press. CEO Elon Musk is active on Twitter (sometimes, too active) where he engages with his enthusiastic (often, too enthusiastic) fans directly. He is also notoriously distrustful and dismissive of the media, which he argues often fails to properly represent his various companies' successes, grasp his vision, or lavish sufficient praise on his ideas.
No press is good press? — Electrek has an extensive list of communications staff who've left Tesla or moved to non-PR departments within the business over the last year. The list of companies staff have defected to include which include Impossible Foods and WhatsApp, and the internal roles run the gamut from design to product management and sales. The title also managed to get a source at Tesla's U.S. operations to confirm the company "no longer [has] a PR Team."
It's a bold decision to decide not to offer the media any channel of communication, but it's also a very effective way to control the proverbial narrative. And it's decidedly on-brand. Tesla is famous for eschewing advertising, so why not public relations, too? It's a cost center the culling of which can boost the bottom line even further. Plus, it limits press interactions to arrange test-drives, dial-ins for investor events, and the like.
At the same time, refusing to answer criticism or address legitimate concerns directly isn't a great look for what is now the world's most valuable automaker. It looks, well, a little petulant.
Battery day — Tesla's recent "Battery Day" event is a great example of the sort of media response that's likely prompted this decision. During the event, Tesla unveiled its forthcoming, custom-made batteries and the production lines it's created to make them possible. The company also hinted that a $25,000 Tesla will arrive one day. We were pretty enthusiastic about the event — a cheaper Tesla could legitimately upend the motor industry and fast-track the switch to zero-emission vehicles, the Tesla Model S Plaid is insane, and if Tesla gets the economics of its battery right, it could build a nearly unassailable advantage over rivals.
But Musk bemoaned the lackluster media response — and accompanying minor reduction in Tesla's share price — in a podcast with Kara Swisher. "The press coverage of this event was sad," Musk said, adding "most of the press takeaway was ... a sad reflection of their understanding, really."
At least without a PR department, no one at Tesla's going to have to answer queries about when full-on AutoPilot is coming. So, there's that.