(this is a continuation in a series:

Over the past three years there’s been a large amount of negative news stories against Tesla.  However, over the past year the pace and intensity of those negative news stories have increased dramatically.  There appears to be an onslaught of negativity in the media against Tesla and Elon Musk.

Many Tesla supporters have concluded that the media is biased and is at fault.  However, I think there’s danger in reaching that kind of conclusion.  In short, it’s true the media is biased because it’s made up of people who hold personal biases and are influenced by media themselves in the hyperconnected world we live in.  However, I don’t think it’s productive to merely blame the media and journalists.

Many other Tesla supporters have blamed shortsellers since they have financial motive to see Tesla fail.  Shortsellers in the past have used unscrupulous methods to plant negative propaganda against certain companies in an effort to lock companies out of funding or to scare away investors.  

Back in June of this year, jesselivenomore posted a very influencial post on teslamotorsclub.com (https://teslamotorsclub.com/tmc/threads/elon-musk-vs-short-sellers.118431/) documenting the rather evil methods some shortsellers used against some companies in attempt to make them fail, and he also showed how those same shortsellers are now shorting Tesla and likely using similarly abusive methods.

This theory of blaming the shortsellers for the negative propaganda against Tesla caught on with many Tesla longs, and even Elon himself read the post and tweeted it out.

Since tweeting that post, Elon has noticeably been more aggressive in blaming shortsellers for Tesla’s troubles in the media.

And now with the SEC coming after Elon, many Tesla longs (including Elon) blame these three parties: 1) shortsellers, 2) the media and journalists, and 3) the SEC.

However, I think this is fundamentally flawed and is causing great damage to Tesla.  Let me explain.

Elon and Tesla have two opportunities to turn the negative media coverage around. First, Elon and Tesla need to minimize self-inflicted wounds that have eroded credibility. There have been two categories of self inflicted wounds. One is the well-known problem of frequently missed guidance (so-called “Elon time” issues). The failure to meet aspirational goals leaves journalists skeptical of any future projections and has become a common point of derision in the media. It is time to under-promise and over-deliver. The other form of self-inflicted wound has been Elon’s Twitter spats and missteps. Tesla needs to address these self-inflicted wounds and stop helping the opposition.

However, the bigger issue at hand is when Tesla is under an attack of negative media, then Tesla PR/Communications has a responsibility to step up and stop that negativity from spreading virally.  And the key method they need to enact is coordinating positive media regarding Tesla.

However, herein lies the problem.  The level, frequency, duration and intensity of negative propaganda attack against Tesla is almost unprecedented as it relates to a company.  Thus, since there’s no precedent, it can be difficult for Tesla to know exactly how to respond.  Further, it’s possible (and probably likely) that Tesla’s PR/Communications personnel have gathered their experience from being in PR/Communications departments for typical companies, and those experiences can actually negatively influence their ability to adapt because the scope of negative propaganda is so extensive that it needs an outside-the-box solution.

Tesla is a hugely controversial and impactful company, and the battle of perception is being waged globally across almost every single media outlet.

Let’s make this more concrete through an example.  Let’s say, hypothetically, there are 1000 negative stories against Tesla and Elon Musk and only 100 positive stories about Tesla and Elon Musk over the past month.  Out of the 100 positive stories, let’s say 20 of them Tesla PR/Communications had a direct impact in their conception.

Let’s say this goes on month after month.  It’s basically a losing battle for Tesla since they have a net 900 negative article per month written against them.  Where this hurts the most is that it can directly impact demand for their products as people believe the negative stories and build a negative image in their minds regarding the company and founder.

Now, it’s only human nature if you’re being attacked like this to complain.  And I understand it.  But complaining won’t fix the problem.  Even criticizing the media/journalists and the shortsellers that might be seeding negative stories isn’t productive either.  In fact, the criticism against the media will likely be used against Tesla and Elon because it will be perceived as an attack against the media/journalists and freedom of speech.

In other words, blaming shortsellers and the media really is just digging the hole bigger and making it more difficult to climb out.

Tesla needs to do the opposite.  They need to coordinate a massive positive media campaign that far outweighs and out impacts the negative propaganda war waged against them.  This is the best and the only way to win, in my opinion.

Some people have argued that if Tesla goes private that the negative propaganda against Tesla would radically decrease since going private would remove shortsellers and the financial motive to see Tesla fail.  This might be true.  But I personally think that going private isn’t the answer.  I think even as a private company, Tesla and Elon Musk remain extremely controversial and there are still other forces, besides shortsellers, that would like to see Tesla fail.  Thus, just removing TSLA from the public markets, doesn’t ensure by any means that the negative propaganda will stop or that Tesla will win that war.

Other people have argued that profitability by Tesla will stop the negative propaganda war against the company.  Again, this might be true but I personally think that the negative propaganda against Tesla and Elon will continue even after Tesla becomes profitable.  There might be less financial criticism of Tesla if Tesla is profitable, but there still likely will be many other angles of criticism that is laid into Tesla even after profitability.

Elon Musk himself has argued that shortselling should be illegal and that companies like Blackrock are unscrupulous by not being forthright in how they lend out the shares of its clients without them being aware.  But again, I don’t think this solves the problem.  it’s not going to be easy to make shortselling illegal, and even if you manage a way to discourage 50% of the shortselling against TSLA, that doesn’t mean the negative propaganda war against the company or Elon stops.  

One of the big reasons the propaganda war against Tesla and Elon doesn’t stop by going private, discouraging shortselling, or achieving profitability is because it’s unclear exactly where all this negative propaganda is coming from.  And further, in my opinion media in this age of the Internet is so distributed that it’s likely coming from many, many sources and different types of sources.  It’s kind of like that carnival game of knocking the squirrel’s head into the hole, only to find another squirrel popping out in other hole.  In other words, you don’t stop the propaganda war against your company, by literally trying to stop the thousands (or in the case of Tesla, hundreds of thousands or millions) of people against you.

Rather than trying to “stop” the negative propaganda, the way to win the war is to have a louder voice.  In other words, Tesla needs to take over the propaganda war by turning it upside down and by being aggressive and creative in assuring that there are far more positive stories about the company than there are negative ones.

In other words, if there are 1000 negative stories about Tesla and Elon monthly, then Tesla needs to find a way to see that there are 2000 positive stories about Tesla and Elon monthly, and that those 2000 positive stories far outweighs and out-impact the negative stories.  This is the way to win a propaganda war against your company.  And it’s where Tesla is failing miserably.

In my opinion, I think Tesla PR/Communications is largely absent from this battle because they are not understanding the magnitude of the response that is required to counter the massive negative propaganda against them.

Tesla needs three things to get started with this.

First, Elon and Tesla need to recognize that the only way to win against the negative propaganda is to beat it with positive media that outweighs and out-impacts the negative.

Second, Elon needs to hire the best-of-the-best to lead this effort, and it should be one of the most important departments at Tesla.  I think they need hundreds of people at the company dedicated to this.

Lastly, Tesla needs to launch a media engagement operation like never seen before with the firm goal to win the war against them.


In the next part of this series, I’ll go into some specifics of what I think this media engagement operation can look like.