Now that the dust has settled on the Thai cave rescue, and apologies have been made, it’s a good time to look into the impact of having a ‘one man-brand’.

From the philanthropic Bill Gates, renegade Richard Branson, and…well…Donald Trump, companies being synonymous with their celebrity leaders is nothing new. Recently, another has risen to celebrity status and is arguably one of the most polarizing, Elon Musk.

Musk’s brands (Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company) are often said to be overvalued and driven by a cult of personality (1). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, a strong and outspoken leader that’s happy to take on the nay-saying internet trolls drums up plenty of PR if done correctly. However it’s a fine art, a brand that relies too closely on its figurehead as a source of brand building is at the whim of that person’s foibles.

Musk’s recent outburst against the hero diver of the Thai cave rescue mission (2) is an eyebrow raising reminder that it’s hard to win a PR battle in 280 characters, but very easy to lose one.

With 22.2 million followers, anything tweeted by Musk is far reaching, and though his tweet is now deleted, the wake of it remains. Sentiment analysis for Musk on the day of the tweet was overwhelmingly negative, with 75.9% of all tweets being negative (3), compared to his usual ~30%. Tesla shareholders were also rattled, as a significant source of their brand’s value (fandom for Musk) faltered, resulting in a stock value drop valued at $2 Billion (4%) (4).

Whilst some claim Musk’s shocking statement was a distraction technique from news that he donates regularly to both the Republicans and Democrats to maintain his influence politically, I don’t think his PR team (if they exist) would deem it a worthwhile trade off.

One-man-brands are a risky strategy for building a brand, but it can pay dividends if the right person is at the helm and they have a modicum of PR understanding. Ironically, it’s Musk himself with the best advice: “If somebody attacks you on Twitter, should you say nothing? Probably the answer in some cases is yes, I should probably say nothing more often.”

(1) https://investorplace.com/2018/06/tesla-stock-turned-corner/
(2) https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/07/18/elon-musk-apologises-british-cave-rescuer-falsely-called-pedo/
(3) Crimson Hexagon
(4) http://fortune.com/2018/07/16/elon-musk-pedo-tweet-tesla-stock/

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