Elon Musk wins praise and scorn for Thai cave rescue efforts

The tech entrepreneur offered his company’s services to help save the youth soccer team trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand. Some found the move a crass example of newsjacking.

When trying to participate in an international crisis, how you talk about your efforts is crucial.

The world has been gripped by the saga of the young Thai soccer players and their coach, who have been trapped in a flooded cave system for 17 days, 10 of those days without food. Rescue divers have worked around the clock to rescue the boys, hampered by heavy rains and dangerous conditions.

At time of publication, eight boys have been rescued; four others and the coach remain inside the cave.

On one rescue attempt, a former Thai Navy seal died after running out of oxygen—and experts worried that the boys weren’t strong enough to make the harrowing dive to get back to the cave entrance.

That’s when Elon Musk got involved.

After consulting with experts in Thailand, his team began working on tech solutions to rescue the boys and their coach.

However, divers decided not to wait for Musk’s technical marvel.

Musk continued to share visuals of his miniature submarine being tested:

Some were less impressed.

The New York Times reported:

Greg Moore, a regional director for the National Cave Rescue Commission, said most rescues prompt a series of newfangled ideas that are not necessarily practical. Mr. Musk’s submarine would likely have trouble fitting through the narrowest passageways, he said.

Earlier, Mr. Musk had suggested a nylon tube that would inflate like a bouncy castle to form an underwater air tunnel.

Others found Musk’s moves to be grossly self-serving.

Musk has downplayed praise that he finds misplaced.

This isn’t Musk’s first foray to help victims of a major disaster. Tesla installed emergency battery systems after a hurricane slammed Puerto Rico.

Musk also has been fighting negative coverage of Tesla, from production delays to improper working conditions in its factories. In response, Musk threatened to create a website ranking news sites on their trustworthiness.

Here are three lessons from Musk’s attempt to join the narrative:

1. Remember that the story isn’t about you.

When messaging about a major disaster or international incident, artificially inserting yourself into the narrative stands to hurt your brand. By staying focused on the dive teams completing the rescue, Musk sidestepped some criticism that he was a megalomaniac in search of a headline.

2. Be ready to correct the narrative.

It’s important for communicators to set the record straight and not allow misinformation to give them an inappropriate role in a major catastrophe. By giving credit where it is due and responding to questions on Twitter, Musk looked tuned-in and focused on the problem.

Failing to correct misplaced praise would have given more ammunition to critics who found the whole episode to be an egregious example of newsjacking.

3. Use video.

Your message probably can’t compete with the pictures and stories coming out of a natural disaster. If you hope to get any kind of buzz from your efforts, you are going to need engaging content.

By sharing videos of his mini-submarine being tested in a swimming pool, Musk was able to provide a stunning visual reference for viewers trying to comprehend the dangers of the recuse mission underway on the other side of the world.

What do you think of Musk’s communications efforts, PR Daily readers?

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