Has Ryanair woken up to the power of good public relations?

About the author

Chris is a lecturer, media trainer, crisis communication consultant and coach. Her in-house roles have included the global position of Director of PR for Barclays. Chris leads the CIPR PR Diploma and Crisis Comms Diplomas. BA Hons, CAM, MCIPR

Our CIPR PR Diploma course leader Chris Tucker, shares her thoughts on the recent announcement that Ryanair is going to do more listening – and get social! Over to you Chris…..

“The news that Ryanair’s outspoken boss has vowed that the airline would no longer “unnecessarily piss people off” begs the question is this some kind of Damascene conversion.

I have to declare an interest here.  As a regular flyer on Ryanair I know its byzantine rules regarding the length and width of your suitcase off by heart.  I have even been known to hide a (small) laptop down the back of my jeans.  I have also seen passengers in distress as they scrabble around on the floor unpacking and repacking their bag in the hope that this will bring it below the dreaded 10kg weight limit.

However, I also know that in the years I have been using the airline I have only been delayed once and that was not for long.  I have never had a flight cancelled and I nearly always land on time and often ahead of schedule.

My other encounters with Ryanair are in the classroom when I am teaching, as part of the CIPR’s Diploma, brand and stakeholder theories.  There is always someone who wants to know where Ryanair fits into a world where corporates are supposed to building relationships with stakeholders and fostering two-way communication.  But if we look at the history of brand it is worth remembering that brands came about as a mark of trust during a time when otherwise consumers could not be sure that the beer or bread they were buying had not been watered down or bulked out with something inedible.  In a way Ryanair fits into that model.  As Mr O’Leary points out it is a cheap, no frills airline that gets you from A to B.  It does what it says on the tin.

Strong brands are said by academics such as Van Riel and Fombrun to be characterised by visibility, distinctiveness, authenticity, transparency and consistency.  Everything about Ryanair from the blue and yellow livery to the basic seats and service tick all those boxes so why should Mr O’Leary care that his airline appeared as the worst brand for customer satisfaction in a recent Which? report.  A recent profit warning and falling sales fueled by increased competition is the simple answer.

Ryanair’s business model is being challenged by foreign airlines who offer baggage allowances its passengers can only dream off and even old adversaries such as Easyjet who have recently begun offering allocated seating – no more elbowing your way to the front of the queue.  With a price based offering only and customers who endure rather than enjoy Mr O’Leary is beginning to struggle.

Failure to invest in good relationships with politicians and the media makes it difficult also for companies to expand their business.  Ryanair has recently been told by the UK Competition Commission to sell down its stake in Aer Lingus a decision it has strongly contested.  If the company was seen as more of a good corporate citizen might regulators and the media be more ready to support its business plans?

If O’Leary does wish to change his airline’s reputation he may want to have a look at Van Riel’s simple model that suggests organisations research where they are in terms of image; work out where do they want to be; judge how big is the gap; and then decide what to do to close it.  Ryanair recruited a new head of communications earlier on this year (interestingly at the time he was quoted as saying there was no place for Twitter and Facebook in the airline’s communication armoury) so I am sure he is on to the challenge of a brand repositioning.  Unfortunately, the Ryanair brand is so heavily determined by the man at the top that the obvious thing to do would be to suggest his own boss steps down – I wish him luck with that!”

Thanks Chris !  If you would like to read more about Ryanair’s conversion to social media, check out this piece from Brand Republic.