From creating Zip2, a web software company, co-founding one of the most effective money-transfer services, PayPal; being the CEO of Tesla, and making Space X, Elon Musk has proven and can be considered as one of the world’s biggest overachievers with plenty of success.
As one of the world’s most famous and adored tech entrepreneurs, Elon Musk has shown that not only is he one of the most prominent authorities in his industry, but he can use public relations and marketing in his favor when trying to get the word out there about his many companies and brands. Public relations have significantly evolved, but with the emergence of instant communication forms like technology and social media, PR tactics need to develop to reach all channels. Elon Musk has proven that innovation, authenticity, and public relations help is beneficial for any company trying to emerge in their target market.
It is undeniable that Musk has an incredible in engineering and being a businessman. Still, he has gone above and beyond with his ability to use public relations to capture millions of people’s attention towards his businesses. Not only does he implement effective PR strategies, but also he has been able to do it at a fraction of the cost of other companies. For example, his company Tesla spends on average $6 for each car on PR and marketing compared to other luxury car brands spending about $3,500 for their PR efforts.
Let us look at tactics he has used and how they can benefit a company’s PR and marketing efforts.
1) Not underestimating social media
Social media is one of the many ways that people get their information. Musk is known for using Twitter to discuss his products and businesses and taking the time to explain what he is doing, what he wants to achieve, and how his products work. He is an excellent example of using social proof as part of a PR campaign. Since he already has a considerable following, he knows that any information he shares with the public will become news. While journalists may look to their inbox for a news story, they are also using other channels to pick up on news that seems fair enough to write about.
The key to Musk’s success with social media is that he uses a more casual social media approach. A mistake that companies make is using social media primarily to get noticed. Rather than doing that, Musk uses it as a place to bring inspiration, ideas, and feedback from people all over the world.
2) Understanding the industry and community
A reason why Elon Musk has been so successful in all his endeavors is being he plans everything. He goes into a task with a well-thought-out plan of what he is trying to accomplish. While he does have a plan, he is also quick to promote and market his ideas with little time for skeptics to tear it down.
Many startups and companies fail with their product or service because they get carried away with an idea without conceptualizing and providing real solutions to customers’ unique values. The initial stage of any marketing strategy should focus on the value of a project and how the product or service will provide a solution.
With that in mind, Musk has always sought to ensure there is a specific need for a product or service before proceeding with it, which means that he has a clear path to follow when it comes to PR and marketing because he works with the needs of a particular target market in mind.
Some examples of this can be seen in his products and businesses. For instance, after going to a festival, he came up with Solar City, a solar installation company that is good for the environment. With PayPal, Musk co-founded the technology to create the first successful electronic system for payments. What was initially created as security software for handheld devices and mobile wallet had some issues with its initial concept but has now become a place for people to access money instantaneously.
He also emphasized the Unique Selling Point when it came to Tesla Motors. Musk went into creating Tesla with a unique selling point, and now it is the most prominent electric car company in the world and is currently on a mission to produce sustainable transport. He understood that there is an increasingly aware public, and he ran with it. He took advantage of public opinion to focus on the environmentally friendly aspect of his vehicles.
3) Being creative and passionate
The key to the success of a company starts from within. It is known that Musk will openly talk about his projects and dreams with the people around him. By discussing elements of his ideas and business with other people in the industry and his target audience, he genuinely believes in what he is doing, which instills a level of trust among people. He has been voted as one of the respected leaders in the tech community by being the leading voice when it comes to the future of artificial intelligence. With his recent achievements with Space X and Tesla, the world understands his position as an authority in the industry.
While he has gone through traditional marketing campaigns, he has distinguished himself as one of the world’s most successful CEOs because he does not play by the “typical rules.”
As mentioned previously, Tesla has achieved media coverage by just spending $6 for each car on PR and marketing efforts. This shows that companies do not need to drop thousands on their media outreach efforts. They can either do it themselves or hire PR professionals with a high level of expertise at a low price. PR agencies like Pressfarm have experts who are there to create personalized and creative content that can be sent out to journalists and media outlets to achieve media coverage.
4) Owning actions
As most of us know, Elon Musk is not the most traditional businessman. Controversy seems to be a part of his PR strategy, but it is backed up with a well-planned crisis management plan if needed.
“One of the pillars of Elon Musk’s PR game is controversy. And this is what most startups miss because they stay in their lane. On the other hand, Musk smokes pot on public podcasts, uses a flamethrower inside his company (and then sells it,) puts one of his cars on the Low Earth Orbit, and smashes Cybertruck windows while on stage. Each of these things was not done (directly) to generate PR, and yet each of them was a powerful stunt that made everyone talk about Musk, Tesla, or SpaceX.” –Jakub Kliszczak, Marketing Specialist at Channels.
As Jakub Kliszczak, none of the actions were performed to generate buzz, but it did. It achieved it because Musk owned up to everything as it happened or not long after. For example, on The Joe Rogan Experience, he was seen sampling a cigar laced with cannabis. While stocks dropped, many critics questioned his actions, and the media presented it as a story of his growing instability; Musk came out on 60 Minutes saying, “I do not smoke pot. As anybody who watched that podcast could tell, I have no idea how to smoke pot.” Another controversial action by Musk was when trying to demonstrate the strength of the Tesla Cybertruck’s window glass. It was meant to bounce off the window, but it presented a massive fracture. Rather than ending the presentation, Musk did the rest of his presentation with the broken glass behind him.
Musk does have a reputation of not always living up to the promises he makes, but he has proven that if one takes accountability for whether they have failed, people will be patient and wait for any updates and see things in their final forms.
5) Coverage is coverage
This is a fair statement when a person is on the level of celebrity of Elon Musk. He is known for being an eccentric genius, so whatever news is presented about him is exposure to him and his brand.
“There’s no such thing as bad press. A Google search of “Elon Musk throws rock” yields 1,280,000 results, most of which are press mentions from Time, Bloomberg, and CNN. Would he have gotten as much exposure had the window not been smashed? No. Suddenly the entire world knew about the new Tesla Cybertruck.” — Wendy O’Donovan Phillips, CEO of Big Buzz.
While this may be the case for large companies and individuals that have already achieved positive media coverage, it is hard to say that something like this could happen to a startup or other companies. However, the main takeaway is that whatever media mentions a company receive, they need to have a crisis management plan to fix it if needed.
6) Reaching for the stars
Sometimes, when companies push so far out of their box, they may not yield the results they want. But, there is no harm in trying. In Musk’s case, he petitioned a SpaceX rocket to launch with a Tesla vehicle onboard rather than a test payload. To the world, it seemed outlandish and ridiculous, but it showed how effective setting unrealistic goals could be. Musk was able to get attention for his various businesses by going so far beyond the practical. He always seems to find a balance between crazy and practical and proves that there isn’t such a thing as “staying in your lane.”
While many startups and entrepreneurs may not have the budget or understanding to plan and execute something like that, there are lessons and inspiration inspired by his idea. It shows that companies need to be creative with their PR strategies and campaigns.
7) Branding outside the industry
While Musk has already established his authority in the tech industry, he has also managed to present himself in other fields. He may not be the most charismatic person, but he makes up for it through his passion, effort, sincerity, and brains. In past professional interviews and podcasts, he openly discusses his fears and failures and his love for science, engineering, and technology. He has also made cameos on TV shows and movies that align him with futuristic engineering themes. Through those cameos also reinforces him as an intellectual and authority in the industry.
By using other tactics to connect with their niche, companies can also establish themselves as thought leaders in the industry. They can do this through guest posting or even creating owned media that supports the brand.
8) Hyping products before launch
The key to generating buzz about a product or service is to start the outreach process before the actual launch. Through social media, Musk has built hype and drop hints to get people excited about his product launches.
This tweet brought much curiosity towards Tesla and served as a great PR tactic. While it did not specify what was happening, people were merely waiting for the announcement to hit. While the announcement was just that Tesla cars were going to include self-driving hardware, the volume of posts and people trying to figure out what was going on generated quite a lot of free marketing exposure.
Now, as mentioned before, Musk has the ability and budget to create products just for the sole purpose of generating buzz. For example, when Musk’s Boring Company wanted to create some cash for their Hyperloop and Loop, they created flamethrowers and “Dad Hats” to generate buzz about it.
“Musk’s Boring Company sold both flamethrowers and “Dad Hats.” But Elon Musk and The Boring Company aren’t really in the business of hats and flamethrowers. They were just a media-worthy way of generating cash for the company’s real focus — Hyperloop and Loop. Instantly, a link was created between flamethrowers and Musk’s high-speed underground public transportation projects.
The purpose of a product is usually to make a profit. When you sell more, you make more to sell. But products and profits can be utilized in other ways, too. Elon Musk has shown here that one cannot overlook the power of a product to generate buzz, and funding, for an enormous undertaking.” – Louise Howorth, Account Executive at Braithwaite Communications.
Many companies do not have that luxury to create products to fill a larger gap, but they can make another way to achieve media coverage. So, rather than just launching a product, companies should consider providing snippets of information to the public over some time to create hype and get people wanting additional details.
9) Let fans be advocates
It is evident that Musk has a large fan base; they have nicknamed themselves “Musketeers” that closely follow everything that he does.
Companies’ best way to get more sales is by getting existing customers and fans to promote the business. They are great to provide insight to potential customers because they have already experienced what a company has to offer and appear more trustworthy. It can be a difficult task, but if a company has products or services that people love, they will talk about it.
Musk does this exceptionally well because he provides exceptional products and engages with his customers, and gains valuable insight from them. He brings his fans and customers along for the journey and makes them feel included in the decision-making process.
So, for companies to be successful, they should engage with their customers and potentially turn them into brand advocates. Asking them for feedback on products and services can be just the thing companies need to improve and adapt to their customer’s needs continuously.
10) Helping the competition
This may seem like a strange concept, but having competition in business is inevitable and can be seen as a threat or an opportunity. As we know, Musk is a risk-taker and does not follow the rules. In this case, he embraces it and sometimes fuels the fire.
“Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open-source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.” – Elon Musk.
In 2014, Tesla opened all their electric car patents promising not to sue any other company that wants to use them. Weird concept, right? Most companies want to have a patent so that their product can be uniquely theirs. However, it shows that Musk had an idea of the future of the entire electric vehicle industry and its market value of the competition. It also shows that he is not worried about the competitors. By “helping them,” he shows the public and reinforces the perception of Tesla being the best and the original among other electric car manufacturers.
This example proves to companies that they need to be aware of the competition, but they should not be afraid to help them. For instance, if a prospective customer may not fit the product or service a company provides, they should pass it on to a better-suited competitor because it shows vulnerability and that they are not confident enough for that specific task knows others who are. It builds trust among other companies in the industry, media outlets, and audiences.
Throughout his career, Elon Musk has shown that he is rightfully one of the highest authorities in the tech industry. He can build the free press, align his brands with flattering media opportunities, come out on top of any controversial situation, and help his fellow competitors in the industry. If companies were to follow his methods with sincerity and adequate follow-through, they have a higher chance of being successful with the PR and marketing efforts. Musk has managed to stay true to himself and his brand message, and he also knows that there have been aspects of his career that may have brought out a negative light. Still, he has managed to develop an effective crisis management strategy and be creative with his approach.
“Persistence is essential. You should not give up unless you are forced to give up.” – Elon Musk