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October 4, 2013
Tesla's Missing Crisis Communication Savvy
 
Tesla Motors may offer a state-of-the-art electric car, but its crisis communication stance when one of its Model S cars caught fire near Seattle was something less than artful. Asked by Forbes to talk about Tesla's "PR plan to handle fallout from the fire," Elizabeth-Jarvis Shehan, the company's director of global communications, said "I don't know why that would help." How about analysts' reports downgrading the company's stock? "I don't read analysts reports."

Geez. Yes, we're picking on a corporate spokesperson at a time of stress. But that's exactly the time when good crisis communication training should find a spokesperson most poised and responsive to questions about her company's actions and situation. Tesla apparently didn't hold a crisis press conference and make Elton Musk or other Tesla engineering executives available to discuss the accident, at least what was known at the time. (Car fires in other brands are far more common than Tesla thus far.)

"The one action Jarvis-Shean did tell me Tesla is taking," wrote Hannah Elliot, of Forbes, "is 'having phone calls with people like you' to tell (reporters) its side about what happened on the highway."

Clearly, that doesn't do it in crisis communication terms - and the video went viral anyway.  Further, Talent Zoo colleague Mike Bush notes this wasn't the first time Tesla bobbled a crisis communication situation.     

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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