Categories: CSR reality check / Trust and reputations

15 October 2009


Why hate Ryanair’s PR?

Disclosure: I’ve never flown Ryanair. So I might be speaking out the bottom of my non-reclining seat. However, I love most of Ryanair’s PR. Here’re ten reasons why (and the cavil).

Last week the BBC’s flagship investigative news programme Panorama hilariously shot itself in the foot when it tried to apply a corporate social responsibility critique to Ryanair. Rather than trash the company’s reputation The Times reports Panorama had the opposite effect.

A Times Online Travel poll at the start of the show found that 88 per cent of respondents were on the hate spectrum of the love/hate Ryanair relationship (although 63 per cent of people fly with the carrier anyway), while only 12 per cent attested to “loving” the airline.

A second poll at the end of the show found Ryanair’s fortunes had reversed, with the BBC considered the “baddie”. Ho ho.

Now here’s why I love Ryanair’s messaging:

1. Ryanair’s no-frills offer is cheap and authentic but not chic, more like chav.

2. Ryanair does not negotiate with campaigners, enter into dialogue with them even, or pretend to care what they think (tough luck for Plane Stupid).

3. Liberals – including I guess liberal PRs – hate Ryanair’s audacity, not least because it runs against the grain of what the latter advise most of their clients to behave like .

4. Ryanair’s boss Michael O’Leary does not do Mr Nice Guy. He pulls no punches:

“We will double our emissions in the next five years because we are doubling our traffic. But if preserving the environment means stopping poor people flying so only the rich can fly, then screw it.”

That may not be a nice, intelligent, constructive or savvy remark. It may not even be in Mr O’Leary’s interests to make it. But it is what he thinks and its authenticity is worth a shed-load of focus-group tested schmoozing.

5. Ryanair knows what makes British and Irish culture tick: “binge-flying” and binge-drinking (though it won’t tolerate drunks onboard its flights and quite right too)

6. Ryanair stands up for the poor – slags, lads and chavs out on the razz – who want to see the world but can’t afford to fly British Airways. It is very much in the spirit of Thomas Cook and the railways that brought the seaside to the masses, and yobs to Southwold, back in the 19th and early 20th century.

7. Ryanair does not pretend to love its staff the way British Airways once famously did when it put cabin crew at the centre of its PR. The unions cleverly twisted the slogan and held the company’s reputation to ransom when the staff went on strike and slagged off the airline big time (ho ho for corporate slime)

8. Ryanair is contemptuous of interfering moralistic regulators who think they are the defenders of the public interest.

Michael O’Leary once famously denounced the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), Britain’s regulator of advertising and marketing, for being a “bunch of unelected, self-appointed dimwits”. (See #4.)

9. Ryanair puts profit and customers – as in cheap no frills flights – unashamedly at the center of everything it does. Ryanair is unashamedly capitalist. It makes money where it can and not always attractively (as in charging for credit card payment by customer not transaction). It’s almost a challenge. Tacitly, Ryanair is saying: “We’ve weighed up who and what we’ll lose by this charging system, and we’ll take the hit. Got a better idea? Get over yourself.” (See 11)

10. Ryanair is not on the Web to do dialogue and have a chat (what tosh about it’s all about conversation now) it is there to do business, and it will punish you hard if you don’t book and book-in online.

11. Here’s the cavil. Ryanair isn’t quite as bold as it ought to be. Its communication director has defended its charge for credit card payment (which is levied per passenger and flight, not per transaction) on the basis that it is possible (just possible, he might have added) to circumvent it. Why not say: “Come on guys, we’ve got to make money somewhere and we reckon this hacks people off less than any other similar ramp”?

So the bliss of the thing is that Ryanair is not just no-frills, it is anti-frills. It rips veils, conceits, devices, cons, prettinesses and even decencies away. It is a pretty competent airline in the sense that it’s pretty reliable. It’s mouthy and quite grasping. You have to be on your toes when you deal with it. I wouldn’t buy a holiday home based on its route map.  All that said, why bother to hate it? It has distinctly lovable dimensions.

4 responses to “Why hate Ryanair’s PR?”

  1. david brain says:

    I flew them two weeks ago back from Dubln and it was a pretty good experience all in all.

    I wonder if there are any times when the Ryanair guys feel this approach goes against them? i just wonder what access to airports, slots delas with partners they have lost or had to pay more for in the past because some poeple just don;t like the Micheal O’Leary approach? Maybe it is a price worth paying? Difficult to argue with their success.

  2. Joanne Crockard says:

    They are the bad boys of PR and there’s always something tasty about bad boys. Loved your article as well, maybe you should go and work for them.

  3. Heather Yaxley says:

    You miss the point about the credit card which is that they want you to take their own card which is the one without the additional charge.

    Anyway, I’m afraid you are wrong here Paul in that it isn’t Ryanair’s PR here to love or hate. This is a business strategy based on maximising publicity – very little concern over the corporate reputation. It is a pure marketing approach to PR – and although that is working now, there’s only so long anyone can avoid their critics. So not caring about the reputation will bite the company in the bum at some point – although probably after Mr O’L has taken his money and retired.

    The BBC hasn’t realised how much Mr O’L loves them taking a pop at him – I even heard him on the Breakfast show thanking them for the free publicity. He knows that as most of what they criticise isn’t safety-critical, it amounts to advertising on the Beeb – which money can’t buy.

    I’ve written about Ryanair a lot in the past as I agree that the approach shows that you don’t need to engage and care about others – even most of your customers. It isn’t a great experience flying with Ryanair – but it is cheap and when it flies, is convenient. It is tacky and money-grabbing, but you can normally play the game if you don’t need to take luggage, etc. The main factor playing in its favour though is how rubbish most of the competitors are.

    My favourite thought about Ryanair is how it manages to keep complaints low – you try finding out how to complain on its website. They are crap and we know they are – but provided the planes don’t fall out of the sky which is the real reputation buster of an airline. They don’t give a stuff.