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Seven PR lessons you can learn from Elon Musk

Tesla is the only major car company in the world that spends nothing on advertising.

And that isn’t because ads don't work – other manufacturers often see great returns on their considerable marketing spend.

No – Tesla doesn’t need to spend money on advertising because CEO Elon Musk is a walking, talking PR coverage machine.

Whilst he may not always get it right - and, indeed, he's had his fair share of PR disasters - it's rare that a week goes by without at least one of his companies making the headlines.

So, in an effort to tap the secrets behind his sales skills, we’ve taken a look at seven PR lessons we can all learn from Elon Musk.

1. A picture tells a thousand words

The importance of great photography in PR should never be overlooked. And Elon is well aware of that.

His big idea for SpaceX - long before it became the multimillion dollar corporation it is now - was simply to send one mission to Mars.

He thought that if he proved it could be done, others would follow.

And the key element in his plan? An incredible photograph of a little green plant he’d flown all the way there, set stark against the red dust. Life on Mars.

Elon still hasn't been to Mars yet - but he did manage to capture the next best thing last year, when he sent his own cherry red Tesla roadster into orbit.


2. Stand for something

Making money for the sake of making money is old news.

People are starting to think far more about what a company is there for, and none more so than Musk.

Tesla doesn’t exist to make cash. As Elon has said himself, if making money was his only goal, starting a car company would’ve been one of the worst ideas imaginable.

The reason Tesla exists is to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport - and that’s a mission everyone on Earth can get on board with.

You can’t fake it. People can smell insincerity a mile away. But a company with a real mission to do something incredible is such a compelling prospect, that if you have one, you should shout loud. And you can reasonably expect that people will listen.

3. Tell people where you're going

Elon isn’t shy about making ambitious targets.

In fact, he’s infamous for setting goals he’s never likely to hit. But it’s the ambition that people respond to.

It’s only human to fail occasionally - and in Silicon Valley it’s positively celebrated. The most important thing is having the ambition in the first place.

A few hurdles won’t kill you - and those who were paying attention might celebrate even harder once you finally make it.

4. Be authentic

Musk has never been one for overthinking his communications.

And whilst a few notable Twitter outbursts might have meant taking a hit in the short-term - the overall effect of his up-front style is simply that people believe what he says.

More important than that - they believe it’s actually him saying it.

Some companies will spend so long over-engineering a press release to please every person in the business, they’ll forget that it actually has to say something.

These releases are invariably ignored, because they sound like self-serving waffle.

Speak the truth, directly, and people will at least know you’re saying something - even if they don’t agree with it.

5. Engage with your customers

It’s easy for many CEOs - especially in the world of tech - to become completely divorced from the people they’re in business to serve.

If customers feel like they’re being ignored, they won’t be customers for long.

Elon may not have a huge amount of time to spare for chewing the fat with his legions of Twitter fans. But he does get stuck in.

It’s not unusual to see him responding directly to customer complaints or enquiries - and even fast-tracking solutions to their problems.

People see this and remember it.

6. Choose quality over quantity with influencers

While a company like Tesla doesn’t have masses of supermodels all hashtagging from their brand new Model S - what they do have is a small number of trusted influencers.

These content creators - like Tim Urban and Marques Brownlee - are knowledgeable, fair, and create well thought-through, comprehensive content about the business.

And because of this, they are given a great deal of special access to Tesla and Elon himself.

Musk chooses quality over quantity - and picks up numbers in the view count instead.

7. Don't be afraid of controversy

A PR disaster always feels like the crisis to end all crises when you’re in the thick of it. But failure is rarely fatal.

Musk has been through a huge array of PR balls-ups - but he manages to stumble through, and is still going, despite all the commentators who said he wouldn’t.

The thing is - without taking some risks, you’ll never achieve the cut through you’re always aiming for.

Elon might hit the headlines for the wrong reasons sometimes - but without his fearless attitude, he likely wouldn’t ever be anywhere near the headlines in the first place.

Controversy sells papers and generates clicks - and if all of your comms are a straightforward sales pitch, nobody is going to want to listen.

That’s not to say you should look for disasters - but staying in your comfort zone is likely to yield the same results it always has.

Be brave, do things differently, and be prepared to kick up a storm. It's obviously important to mitigate risks as much as you can - but you shouldn't let that stop you from taking them in the first place.


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Need help thinking big in your PR or digital content? Drop us a line to find out if we can help.

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Date Published

February 12, 2019



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