Many thousands of words have been written about Elon Musk’s recent counter-intuitive public forays - the latest being his kid-sized submarine sent to Thailand to help rescue the 12 children stuck in a cave, and his tit-for-tat with a British diver involved in the rescue that culminated in Musk calling the diver a paedophile on Twitter.
Not surprisingly, the vast majority of what has been said and written about Musk has been searingly negative and share price-pounding - shares in Musk's Telsa company fell 3 per cent on the back of his paedophile tweet, before rebounding. While people have been prepared to pile on to Musk with now de-rigueur limitless abandon, it’s perhaps worth standing back and asking is he hero to zero? Or zero to hero to zero.
In my line of toil, I start from a premise that if someone does something jarringly at odds with their reputation, there is generally a reason. More often than not it’s that there is more to the situation than is immediately obvious. Musk’s actions and comments, the metaphorical paint brush, still dripping with red paint from the target he has painted on himself, have people aghast. But should we be?
Many have only recently tuned in on Musk because his global glow has until now been something of little or no interest to the broader constituency. Some tell tales suggesting the misadventures are only the latest in a long line. Watching on I think I am with them.
I can’t help but wonder if we are seeing the real Elon Musk now. Just perhaps the Musk that seemed a member of the new generation of wunderkind was in fact just the creation of crack minders and marketers. With the filter down – for whatever reason – we see an individual at odds with the social zeitgeist.
One thing is for sure, his people have to take his phone, his blackberry and every interface he has and stop letting him read and believe his own PR. And they need to be better at it than Trump’s people.
Trump has his finger poised on the nukes button. If asked to help, Musk would probably say he can build his own nukes. On all the available evidence I think we are safe. Tell him to walk away from social media now.
It is fair to ask whether the most recent debacles are all his own work. Uninformed, but engaged for the nanosecond banter, one asks where are his public relations and brand minders? Perhaps his minders are of the Trump school of PR where truth and trust matters for nothing. It’s all about the attention. Being kind to my own profession it’s possible that they have they drunk his Kool-Aid or does he, like Trump, simply go off on frolics of his own, and no one is brave enough to reel him in?
It’s clear his investors and other stakeholders have sworn off the Kool-Aid and they will be demanding a fix for the situation. It will be interesting to watch.
Given their nature and the belated and begrudging apology for the rightly damned Thai cave tweets, lawyers are undoubtedly involved. Solving that one will be expensive given the slur went global and and there seems to be no possible counterfactual argument.
If Camp Musk recognise or believe they have a global reputational issue, they will be strategising about how to reset the narrative. Wading in with some gratuitous advice, I would suggest they put the red cape in for dry cleaning and stand back from the next global rescue or domestic energy crisis. Focusing on his own crisis, righting Tesla, will be the way back.
Only time will tell if Musk is a zero who flamed across skies only to fall to earth, spent to a degree that even his own batteries can’t help. The fix is firmly in the Musk camp and it can only be delivered by them. If there is substance in the individual or situation there is always a way back, one way or another. If Tesla can’t be fixed, mini submarines and city-saving batteries will not suffice.
Sue Cato is a partner at PR firm Cato & Clegg. Her clients include Fairfax Media.