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Elon Musk and How Not to Handle a PR Crisis | Hacker News

tptacek 1 day ago | link

It does not matter who you think is winning or losing this argument. The point this post makes is sound: unless you’re sure that Musk is crushing Broder in the eyes of a disinterested prospective Tesla customer, Musk harmed Tesla more than he helped it.
His response took a bad review and turned it into front-page news in a way that would not have happened if Tesla’s response hadn’t been combative.
The reason the author wrote this post is to educate you, startup founders, that Musk’s tactic was dumb. Tesla will survive it; Musk can afford to pick fights that raise awareness of Tesla’s negatives. But you probably can’t afford that for your own company.
You can respond to this post with yet another 10,000 word thread about who’s more credible, Musk or Broder, but to do so is to miss the core point of the post.

ajross 1 day ago | link

There’s an argument about the “long game” though. The point of marketing isn’t to get customers money right now, that’s what “sales” is about.
If you believe (FWIW: I do, but let’s please not get back into that here) that Broder’s review was sensationalized nonsense essentially intended to spin every minor glitch into a negative story, then what this hissy fit did is make sure, by making an example out of Broder and his editors, that all the other journalists out there don’t try the same thing.
Basically, Musk is trading some instantaneous bad press for fairer press in the future (which is sort of already happening, c.f. the CNN ride yesterday which contradicts Broder and certainly wouldn’t have happened without the controversy). That may or may not be a net benefit, but it’s a more subtle analysis than the “did he harm more than help” one you are arguing for.

tptacek 1 day ago | link

I don’t believe Broder’s review was nonsensical, which probably accounts for why I don’t subscribe to the idea that this was a smart long-term strategy for Musk, but I understand why reasonable people think that. However, Musk can afford to play long games with PR. Most startups can’t.
Regarding reviews in particular: I’ve done a bunch of them at previous companies, and I think the average first-time founder on HN would be very surprised to learn how subjective and relationship-based they are. I once “won” a bakeoff review for a product I was managing, only to “lose” it later in the week when the reviewer wrote a followup story about improvements in the runner-up. The net effect was negative; it turned us into the de facto runner up.
Most tech product reviews are much more subjective than this Tesla review. You have to have a lot of traction in the market for an important review to revolve around simple “speeds and feeds” issues like how much mileage your vehicle gets. Pissing off reviewers is almost always going to be a losing strategy, even when you’re right.

niggler 1 day ago | link

“the CNN ride yesterday which contradicts Broder and certainly wouldn’t have happened without the controversy”
The CNN ride comes off as a cheap PR stunt now.
The “long game” was already lost when Musk proved himself incapable of handling a non-glowing review. There was a way for Tesla to spin this favorably and talk about their technological advancements (talk about the weather and how you should charge it in the cold, how technology in the car ensures that it will start after being in the cold overnight) but instead Tesla decided to go for the sensationalist angle.
As many have discussed at length in other threads, the Broder account wasn’t “sensationalist”. It in fact is corroborated to a great extent by Musk’s data.
If Musk gave a civil reply acknowledging what happened without making it sound like a fake, we wouldn’t have this conversation days later.

cube13 1 day ago | link

I think he’s trading bad press now for no press in the future. Musk has now established that he’s going to go after anyone that makes a negative review about the car. So why bother dealing with Tesla and Musk if something goes wrong, when you can go review cars from just about every other manufacturer and not have to deal with it?

brown9-2 1 day ago | link

I don’t understand why you treat the CNN ride as if it refuted what the NYT did, since it was not the same experiment:
There were some differences with my ride and the one from the New York Times. The weather for mine was about 10 degrees warmer. And I did mine in one day; the reviewer from the Times split it into two.
And the CNN author has some of the same concerns in the end, although not the same output:
On Thursday, I took the same drive — and I made it to Boston, though not without some anxiety that I would run out of juice.
Looking back on the trip, it would be even easier if Tesla would install one of their fast-charging Superchargers along the New Jersey Turnpike.

snowwrestler 1 day ago | link

I disagree with the article because Tesla is a famous brand, and the New York Times has enormous readership. This story was going to have legs no matter what Musk did.
By responding so fast, Musk essentially changed the story from “Tesla car on flatbed” to “Tesla car on flatbed might have been faked.” Obviously the latter is better for Tesla.
This can work because interest in stories tails off over time. Far fewer people are going to bother to read Broder’s rebuttal, than heard about the controversy through a third-party news source (most of whom will not bother to write detailed follow up stories).
In addition, Tesla has a lot of fans, and there is value in taking a bold stand to fire up the troops. Look at how vociferously people have defended Tesla here on HN. And we are definitely the target audience for Tesla.


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