Elon Musk: Public Relations Wreck or Rockstar?

Companies thrive when effective leaders help guide them on a path to success. Employees look to these leaders for motivation, purpose and direction. Consumers need someone they can trust who has their best interests at heart when making decisions that affect an organization.

Leaders can be found at all levels of a business. At the top, a visible, engaged and connected CEO is important for establishing a long-term vision, fostering a shared mission and steadying the ship during a crisis. It’s necessary to have a leader who embodies all of these qualities. Lead executives should understand how important their role is in maintaining an authentic and open relationship with the public while being the leading voice and face of an organization.

Someone with a wealth of experience as a CEO is Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. He doesn’t need an introduction, but Musk is essentially the most successful tech entrepeneur on the planet. His business ventures are changing the world for the better, a goal that drives much of his decision making. There is no doubting his success, work ethic and ability to take his visions and bring them to fruition. He’s a visionary and arguably one of the most influential people of this generation.

Musk has also been criticized for mismanagement, Tesla Twitter drama with the SEC, weed smoking on Joe Rogan’s podcast and falsely accusing a British diver who helped with the Thai cave rescue of being a pedophile. He’s often characterized as wreckless and irresponsible, which are fair assesments given his recent missteps. This behavior is not a good look for any CEO. These actions raise concerns about his ability to lead by example and manage companies that are already under a lot of scrutiny.

As a PR case study, Musk is the perfect person to examine. He’s one of the most well-known CEOs in the world and loved and hated by many. While I truly believe he means well, sometimes his ego and strong personal views get him into hot water.

Despite his problems, Musk is a great example of a leader who understands the value of public relations. He’s active on social media and frequently posts company updates, accomplishments and information for his followers. He set Twitter off when he offered to host PewDiePie’s Meme Review. He did a great interview and factory tour with popular tech YouTuber Marques Brownlee and has been the subject of many articles and think pieces. Tesla model launches and SpaceX rockets and roadsters in orbit captivate audiences around the world and create buzz around Musk and his antics. He’s the quintessential “cool” CEO and is setting a new standard for leadership in the internet age.

A comment on the Brownlee video sums it up best. “Big companies hire high profile celebrities to endorse their product, but Tesla saves that money because Elon is THAT celebrity.” It’s not common to see a CEO in the unique position Musk is. He’s hugely popular, well-respected within the tech community and a business titan who also happens to be a quasi-celebrity.

For communicators, Musk can be your biggest asset or liability. It depends on the day. But to me the good outweighs the bad. For every errant tweet he makes, he manages to come back stronger to show why he’s the best person for the job. There’s nothing wrong with a CEO speaking his mind. People will appreciate the transparency over scripted corporate speak.

If more CEOs were like Elon Musk, it might create some headaches. It would also make our jobs a lot easier as PR professionals. Leaders like Musk can be the most effective tool we have in creating, maintaining, and protecting an organization’s reputation and enhancing its goodwill with the public.


Changing Perceptions of a Misunderstood Profession

The negative and often misunderstood perception of public relations professionals and the entire industry has been a thorn in the industry’s paw for decades. We’re managing the reputations and images of clients we represent, but what’s being done to change the negative perceptions of our own industry?

The C-suite is beginning to realize the value of public relations toward the overall success of an organization. We have a seat at the table, but we need to prove we deserve to be there and demonstrate how important the communications function is. If we want the respect we deserve as a profession, we need to take our education and training and use it to improve our own profession’s reputation.

The negative views of our work were molded by the media, Hollywood and unethical practices over the years. There’s are common misconceptions about what we do as PR professionals. We’re not all publicists doing damage control for celebrities and other public figures. We don’t lie. We dont spin the truth.

Our work is very strategic, and much of it involves building better relationships between organizations and the public.

If we’re hoping to improve our industry’s reputation and gain trust and respect among the public, we must:

  • Highlight and enforce our Code of Ethics to ensure the profession continues to be positively perceived in the eyes of the public.
  • Change the stigma of PR pros being flacks or spin doctors. Transparency and openness is crucial toward the success of our profession for the long term. Make people aware of our practices and try to educate and inform.
  • Practice Corporate Social Responsibility by supporting communities and people we work with. These good deeds humanize our industry and make it clear that philanthropy, not profit, is at the heart of what we do.
  • Use appropriate measurement standards to tie in PR plans and strategies to the bottom line of a company. Use data and analytics to show the value of PR programs and how they contribute to business goals.

This is clearly not an extensive list, but surely a good approach toward a new direction for this industry. The work we do for clients is invaluable, and good practices, ethics and deeds will help change the perceptions of a misunderstood profession.

%d bloggers like this: