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Winning The Hearts of the People In a Politicized World: An Open Letter to Elon Musk

Discussion in 'TSLA Investor Discussions' started by FluxCap, Nov 19, 2013.

  1. FluxCap

    FluxCap Active Member

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    #1 FluxCap, Nov 19, 2013
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2013
    Dear Elon,

    I have followed your exploits from my perch in Washington, DC ("the other" coast), in the center of our political world, for the better part of the last decade. I am an MBA and technology visionary like you, but unlike you, I have worked with two Presidential administrations in the epicenter of national politics and policy to make the case for a renewable electric future to a largely unreceptive audience. Never have I seen as promising a catalyst as you, your company and your latest flagship product, the unparalleled and world-changing Tesla Model S. I have made enough money on your stock to purchase one of these flagship products, realizing a sci-fi childhood dream of mine. I am grateful for all your hard work in service to your family, your planet, and yes, even your shareholders, including me.

    But your latest blog post, while certainly welcome and satisfying in its reassurance of the long-term viability of your product, is less reassuring than it could have been regarding the the long-term viability of your management execution, and in turn, your company. I want to share with you an impression from outside the bubble of Silicon Valley, because you need perspectives that serve to strengthen the perception of your company in the hearts and minds of the public, not just perspectives that strengthen your product development (you already have plenty of those).

    Specifically, I'd like to offer a few suggestions that I hope could serve to strengthen Tesla Motors' chances for ultimate success in executing the Secret Plan. Elon, it's not sufficient to use the plan as a cocktail party punchline anymore -- the plan cannot be secret. It must be championed and shouted from the rooftops beyond "word of mouth." It must be spoken by people other than you. It must be publicized, and broadly. It must be so baked into the very flecks of paint of each car, that whenever the public sees your product, they think of the plan, and they are happy about it -- they want "in." And the primary cost of executing this plan is not dollars, it is trust. Trust that you must engender in your own heart. Trust of your teammates and fellow champions. Trust of your fellow managers.

    So here then are some bullets in the very Washington-esque style I'm sure you have read about in articles on the follies of our beleaguered government over the years: a "Lessons Learned" debriefing.

    Lessons Learned for Elon in Aftermath of October 2013 PR Crisis, and Reactions to 11-19-2013 Blog Post:


    • Good sir, you have to stop assuming the media is your friend because of the strength of your product. The US public (and to an extent, the globe) is now more highly politicized and polarized than at any time in the last century. The media is the merciless representation of the political animal in each of us, and this animal can and must be tamed. You are running a company with a VERY political public brand whether you like it or not, and in politics when you say nothing, your opponent wins.

    • Relax your engineering brain and let the lessons of Wharton come back to you, my MBA colleague. There is certainly a need to "over-think" the product to continue to build the best product in the market. But there is no need to over-think media responses to the extreme and delay them when a more modest, short response could buy you time to respond more fully and take the fire out of the inevitable media pile-on that will continue to occur with perception of any slight misstep in Tesla Motors' execution.

    • Know your strengths (focus on your core competencies). You are a visionary leader and incredible product architect and steward. Keep it up, but let some others carry some of the load. Specifically, pay some people a modest amount to build your brand more actively, specifically with public and media relations. You CAN afford it.

    • Hire a public relations lieutenant and/or firm from outside the Silicon Valley bubble. The messaging that works in the Bay area does not translate to the national or global stage well. Once you hire them, do the following:
      • First, designate a primary lieutenant or set of lieutenants and trust them. Work with them to develop basic, stock talking points about your brand. Do not take more than a week do do this. No team meetings. Just you and your lieutenant.
      • Let them have 5 minutes of your time whenever they ask for it in order to develop talking points to respond to the events of the 24-hour news cycle, which is ever-present and relentless.
      • After establishing stock talking points and a rapid-response process, let your PR team respond in realtime with a more limited set of talking points without your direct intervention in every communication.

    • Please don't ever discuss felonies again in a press release / blog post defending your product. Arson? Take a breath, brother! Emotional statements like this are inappropriate for a large company's public statements.

    • Kiss your kids, remember that you're doing this for their future as well as ours, and remember that this is a protracted battle against entrenched, powerful interests that will not be won overnight.

    • Do not underestimate your opponents. The way to win is not with the best tools, but with the best team. Hire and keep them.

    That's all I have for you for now. I'm more than cheering for you from the other coast. I'm a dedicated champion. But it's time to create more champions in the public, and that starts with hiring, keeping and trusting champions that can operate by your side and help bring the Secret Plan into the light. Not just for your shareholders, but for your children, my children and their children to come.

    Sincerely,
    A Long-time Admirer and Champion

    P.S. Should you desire more honest feedback from this dedicated champion, you have but to ask.
     
  2. Mario Kadastik

    Mario Kadastik Active Member

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    I hope you didn't just post it here, but sent it to him too ;)
     
  3. farzyness

    farzyness Food lover. Entrepreneur. Did I say food lover?

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    Flux - killer letter. I will tweet this link (even though a maximum of 4 people will view it, I still want to do my part :))
     
  4. FluxCap

    FluxCap Active Member

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    Thanks, Mario. I tweeted to him, but I don't have his direct contact info -- if anyone else does, please feel free to send along!
     
  5. Mario Kadastik

    Mario Kadastik Active Member

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    You can always send it to [email protected] and I think at the London store opening he also mentioned [email protected] which he didn't know if it existed, but promised it would by next day ;) The feedback was about the car though so the office address might be best. It's read by his staff and important letters are forwarded to appropriate people. When I wrote there I got within 2 days a response from Jerome that was very constructive so do send.
     
  6. FluxCap

    FluxCap Active Member

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    Awesome. Sent to both. Who knows if the big guy will get to see it, but one can hope. Thanks again!
     
  7. Clemsons2k

    Clemsons2k Member

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    Very well written. Gives me warm and fuzzy feelings all over :tongue:
     
  8. Lessmog

    Lessmog Member

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    Applause for FluxCap from this amateur spectator (and TSLA shareholder; hopefully future Tesla owner).
    Generous offer of good advice indeed. Best when heeded.
     
  9. JRP3

    JRP3 Hyperactive Member

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    I'm not getting your point on the secret plan, it never was secret and he's referenced it countless times. I also didn't get the "kiss your kids" bit. You think he doesn't? Plus, I'm quite sure he knows as well as anyone, if not better, the forces stacked against him.
     
  10. jerry33

    jerry33 S85 - VIN:P05130 - 3/2/13

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    Do that and you end up with a 2004 Prius that doesn't have MP3 capabilities because the PR firm thought that the old folks (anyone over 25) who purchase the Prius don't listen to MP3s. A PR firm is the last thing you want for an innovative company.

    PR firms are probably fine for companies that haven't had an original idea in the last two decades.
     
  11. Ocelot

    Ocelot Member

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    As a shareholder, and enthusiast, I am ok with where things stand. I do not a bloated company with people there just to create spin. That is the way of corporations currently, and I want something different.

    While I agree it would of been nice to a see a response sooner,(even if brief and to say more coming) and I do not think Elon's response was great, the bottom line is who cares? Sure the stock tanked, but it will go back up...eventually. Did not change the product at all. Arguably one could say it affected future sales, but in a larger timeframe (years not months) I think these fires/accidents will be a blip on the radar.

    I would let the product speak for itself. The vast majority of advertisements and PR work , are seen for just that. I rather see money spent on R and D for future saftey enhancements than PR departments. , or marketing. How many Ford SuperBowl commercials have made you go out and buy a Ford?
     
  12. pGo

    pGo Member

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    Steve Jobs was rude to a lot of people but he knew what drives the market (both the end user and investors). He wanted his products to be on the cover of a few magazines and he started developing relationships with the editors of time and a few others.

    He also stayed in direct contact with Walt Mossberg for years - even in times he didn't have good products to demonstrate. Every time Walt was in town, he offered to see him and asked him to join for lunch. Steve crafted every relationship such that he got what he wanted from most of them.

    Elon needs to get onboard with this thinking. He is genius and can develop PR relations where companies strive to get a first look at his products/plans and set a build up for gen 3. After that, it will be all history.
     
  13. Krugerrand

    Krugerrand Active Member

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    This reminds me of when Elon Musk trusted those he'd left in charge of Tesla that almost drove it into the ground. Asking him to do that again with a PR group...

    I don't trust PR machines and certainly not in political venues. What I can trust is emotion from someone who isn't a professional actor. I don't have to like the emotion or what comes from it, but I can trust it as the honest to goodness truth, and that's far more important to me than all the rest.
     
  14. Grendal

    Grendal Active Member

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  15. PeterJA

    PeterJA Member

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    Flux, the following criticism is intended to be constructive, as yours for Elon clearly was.

    1) Your post struck me as more emotional and less factual than Elon's post that you found wanting. This seems unlikely to impress him. Job One of a communicator is to know his audience. You should know that engineers like Elon respond to facts, not exhortations to trust you and kiss their kids.

    2) Your post contains some specific suggestions (e.g., respond faster), diluted by many vague platitudes that seem of little use to Elon (e.g., kiss your kids, hire good people, know your opponents). I would focus on the former and edit out the latter.

    3) If you want to work for Elon, I would show him that you can do better than his recent blog post. Write your own version and annotate it to explain what you did and why.

    4) You repeatedly exhort him to trust a PR person (such as you), but such trust must be earned. Besides a rewrite of his blog post, some evidence of your past successes would be more persuasive than your obvious passion. Passion and good intentions are not enough.

    5) Your post suggests that some or all of Elon's post will be poorly received by his audience ("Arson? Take a breath, brother!"). Is there any data to support that? The stock went up today. What methods do you propose to evaluate the effectiveness of Elon's or your communications? Polling? Focus groups? Be aware that Elon seems skeptical of the accuracy of market research. (I am too, having seen companies in my industry be often flabbergasted by the public response to products they had researched.)

    Best wishes,
    Peter
     
  16. FluxCap

    FluxCap Active Member

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    Thanks to everyone for your comments! Just to clarify -- this isn't a job application, so I see no need to extol my resume. It's simply a plea for some perspective, and hope that it might be received as such if it ever finds its way to Elon.

    I appreciate all the thoughts, and am glad some of you found it useful / enjoyable to read.

    Cheers,
    Flux
     
  17. AudubonB

    AudubonB Mild-mannered Moderator Lord Vetinari*

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    Thank you for your efforts, Flux; as for me, I prefer the tone and contents of the statements I have read from Mr. Musk than those you offered.
     
  18. sleepyhead

    sleepyhead Active Member

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    You have some great writing skills FluxCap.

    I don't think TSLA needs a PR machine, quite frankly I really don't care that much about short term price fluctuations. I like the way that TSLA runs its business and I am happy that the stock price has come down a little bit. Now that it is more fairly valued, Elon doesn't feel stressed out about doing everything possible to justify the price.

    I am ok with how Tesla and Elon handles PR. I also think that it is better for Tesla to fly under the radar. If they keep advertising their master plan and that Model E will come at a cheap price in very high volume in a short period of time, then it will motivate oil companies even more to prevent that from happening.

    In the end, stocks almost always find their intrinsic values. So long as the stock is at $1000 (lets say) 5 years from now, I couldn't care less if it is at $120 or $300 next year.

    TSLA is a buy and hold investment, so short term fluctuations shouldn't matter. I actually prefer for the stock to go down because I am accumulating more TSLA every single day for the past week and a half.

    Since Tesla doesn't need to raise capital, there is no need for a high stock price. A low stock price also makes it possible to make money on shorter term call options; I am not recommending this and have not bought any myself, but will look into it if TSLA falls even further.
     
  19. FluxCap

    FluxCap Active Member

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    Thanks for insights as always Sleepy. Here's hoping the TSLA $1,000 train keeps marching on to a bright future, as you say. Still, I am concerned about Tesla's perception and brand management in the medium term, and frankly concerned for Elon's well-being to a degree, which is part of the intent of my letter.

    I do feel that regardless of product viability, attacks from competitors will inevitably be directed at whatever they perceive to be the weakest spot in the brand perception of Tesla. Right now, that's "car fires," and they are hitting hard where it hurts. I believe that despite the objective strength of the core product of Tesla Motors, consumers are not objective animals, and need to be shepherded to the right conclusion by champions of the brand, whether paid or unpaid. Word of mouth is strong, but it isn't sufficient over the long term.

    So, Elon should begin fortifying the brand now from a position of strength and freshness, before the brand is defined by others. It takes less money to create brand perception in the early stages of a brand or product launch than it does in the later ones, so the longer he waits the harder it gets. I'm not saying nothing has been done, but I do think he needs reinforcements that are empowered to act on his behalf. He needs managers he trusts enough to trot out in front of the public, so he can focus on what he enjoys and does best. I heard him loud and clear when he said last month "building a company is like eating glass and staring into the abyss." I assume this means there are parts of the work he does not enjoy, and for this reason he should share the load.

    We shall see what the future holds, and I believe as you do that TSLA has a very, very bright future ahead if they can rise to the challenges to come.
     
  20. Johan

    Johan Took a TSLA bear test. Came back negative.

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    FluxCap: I agree With some of Your critizism, but I also agree With some of the critique you recieve here from others. I personally think the statistics route was not the smartest one to go Down With regards to the fires, since IMO it is a bit of a hornet's nest if you get unlucky and have say another two freak accidents happen soon. It's actually a little bit of a gamle. Also, there are a million ways to find flaw in Elon's way of calculating the statistics and many of these flaws are valid. The point is he should have avoided the statistics all together. I also think it made him appear less humble than I am quite sure he is. For those of us who have followed him and the Company we know that he is very huble, however confident he may be. Sadly this time he didn't appear humble. I'm not saying he should fake being humble, I'm saying if he had a better PR team they would give him feed-back and let him know that the way he presents this will possibly portray him and the Company in a way he would not like. It's almost impossible to judge yourself objectively especially when you get emotional.

    On the other hand I would in no way prefer a typical political and/or megacorporation PR machine in Place which oftens seems to have as its foremost goal to give statements that are always safe, ambigous, unemotional, flat, without taking a proper position, most aimed at not offending anyone rather than standing up for what you believe in. That would be worse.

    It just makes me Wonder sometimes if there is an internal "culture of Elon" at Tesla where he is surrounded by too many "Yes-sayers"? I hope not. It kind of seems that way though since if I worked there I would have said to him not to publish this blog in its current state. On the earning Calls it sure does seem like Deepak is his Equal when it comes to Finances and such, and other times it has seemed like Blankenship was able to correct him when it came to stores etc.
     

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