Can a flippant approach to media relations have a positive effect?

LONDON - Even those who dislike Ryanair profess a sneaking admiration for chief executive Michael O'Leary's hang-the-consequences marketing style. But what does this devil-may-care attitude do to a brand?


Jon Ingall
Managing partner, Archibald Ingall Stretton

While I privately revelled in Ryanair throwing caution to the wind and telling its patrons to like it or lump it, it's just bad business to inform customers they aren't, in fact, always right. They say all publicity is good publicity, but it's a very risky strategy to insult your customers.
We've gone too far down the road of political correctness; you shouldn't always bow and scrape. However, there is a line, and Ryanair has crossed it with a blatant disregard for its client?le. Just because passengers pay low fees to fly, that doesn't mean they should forego any customer service. The real issue is that Ryanair has got its PR message confused. It's tried rather aggressively - and unsuccessfully - to cover a cost-saving exercise with the excuse that the saving is passed on to customers.
Giving customers a reason to stay with your brand is a basic principle of media relations, but it's all in the plan - and, like Hannibal in The A-Team, I love it when a plan comes together.


Vijay Solanki
Head of marketing communications,

The British media has a history of building up to knock down. So, although you might escape with being flippant to drive media coverage in the short term, you will be damaging your brand reputation with relevant media. This will always leave you prone to attack, even if you have a history of being really adept with the media. This applies whether or not you have a personality-led brand, such as Michael O'Leary at Ryanair.
There are two aspects to this situation. One is the quality of your communications planning and media relations. The other, and the most important, is how your PR connects with your brand and customer experience. Further to O'Leary's threat to charge passengers £1 to use the lavatory, for example, on short-haul flights, what percentage of customers actually use the loo and what do they think? That's what really matters.


Ian Billington
Managing partner, Billington Cartmell

To be flippant is to be frivolous or inappropriate, and managing a brand
is about neither of these things.
There have been some cracking PR disasters where management has been sadly lacking and when chief executives let their guard slip it can have a near fatal effect. Standing for something, and an honest point of view, will invariably chime: the truthfulness of Papa John's founder and chairman John Schnatter's recent remark 'Pizzas are healthy if you don't eat too much. You can't have five or six slices' may irritate shareholders, yet it captures the mood for balance and common sense.
Michael O'Leary has championed low-cost air travel and undoubtedly contributed to the growth of Ryanair's brand value.
His brand has redefined what the category is all about, which is why - for the moment, at least - passengers will forgive his indiscretions. This latest remark may be pushing the flush of success a little too far, but, ultimately, I suspect that only sales of his scratch-cards (also £1) would suffer - not Ryanair's bookings.


Guy Lawrence
Chief executive, Quintessentially

Memorable? Yes. Talkable? Often. Entertaining? Can be. But does it generate a positive effect on the brand? It's a high-risk strategy that can backfire and kill the brand. You have only to think about the famous jeweller who ruined his business on the back of a flippant, albeit witty, remark.
What's the message? Media relations are critical to the future of any brand. They must be taken seriously and handled professionally. Fortunately, there are many talented experts in this area, which makes it much easier for the brand guys to get it right.
Managed properly, the messages will be memorable, talkable and entertain-ing, but also communicate the key ideas that differentiate the brand and make it relevant.
Get it right and it can be very powerful. Get it wrong and it can destroy shareholder value very rapidly. Why take that risk?


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