I bet you’re like me – when you hear about some CEO’s crazy antics, you’re overcome with empathy, thinking: “I wonder what his PR person is going through right now.”
Trigger warning: This post considers the experience of being Elon Musk’s PR person.
I’m not making a value judgement about him. You can think what you want about him as a business leader and human being.
Instead I’m acknowledging how the mere thought of working for someone with his lack of message discipline sends any self-respecting PR pro into cold sweats and stomach spasms.
I’ve been reading the new biography by Walter Isaacson. Truth really is stranger than fiction.
To push back on this narrative, his PR consultant, Juleanna Glover, prescribed a long-form interview to clear the air. A forum where Elon could be himself and not taken out of context. In her briefing document for Musk, she wrote:
“In no universe is it okay for you to continue to contemplate the sexual predilections of a Thai diver who insulted you.”
Yes – that’s a real thing. You thought you had to hold your executive’s hand!
You have probably guessed where this anecdote is leading. Elon succeeded in never mentioning the Thai diver during his infamous 2.5-hour interview with mega-podcaster Joe Rogan. Instead, he chose to smoke a joint live on the air, EVEN AFTER Rogan said, “You probably can’t because of shareholders, right?”
Okay, that’s a fascinating but extreme example to illustrate one point for you:
In no universe is it okay for you to do PR for a person or organization that acts like this.
It’s one thing if their cause is controversial or they have owned up to mistakes. If you believe in them, it’s honorable to fight through the adversity together.
But if someone repeatedly rejects your counsel, drop them and find someone who sees you as the expert you are.
If you are now feeling lucky that you are not in this position, then your next step is to save six months’ living expenses. That will be your “freedom fund” in the event your luck changes, so you can quit and have a runway to find a new gig.
This article was originally published on November 2, 2023
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