Rhetoric or reality

Environment minister Ian Pearson is berating the airlines over carbon emissions and for not taking climate change seriously.  Some tough language in his rhetoric – although in branding Ryanair as “the irresponsible face of capitalism”, he is taking on Michael O’Leary, a master of the verbal sparring game. 

In last year’s Diploma planning assignment, students tackled the issue of possible environmental taxes for a “fictional” organisation Tryanair.  I urged at the time for the case study to really be Ryanair, since the company has a definite culture and position that challenges the “ideal” model of public relations practice, based on two-way communications and building relationships.

An interesting question is whether O’Leary’s defiant brand of one-way communications – rhetoric or press agentry – is an effective PR strategy.   What Ryanair hasn’t recognised, as Nigel Wonnacott from the SMMT briefed a MIPAA workshop for young PR practitioners late last year – is that denying global warming is not an option today.

It may be amusing to issue a press release saying:

RYANAIR – EUROPE’S GREENEST AIRLINE – RESPONDS TO FOOLISH COMMENTS OF UK ENVIRONMENT MINISTER
CELEBRATES WITH 5 MILLION FREE SEAT SALE

Ryanair, Europe’s largest low fares airline, which is also Europe’s greenest airline, today (Friday, 5th January 2007) rejected the foolish and ill informed comments of UK Environment Minister, Ian Pearson.   

Laughing off Mr Pearson’s attack, Ryanair’s CEO, Michael O’Leary said:

 “Being attacked by Minister Pearson (reminds me of Denis Healy’s famous quip) …. is  like “being savaged by a dead sheep”.  It is clear that Minister Pearson hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about.

And, clearly Ryanair has a message in terms of its investment in more fuel-efficient aircraft.  But, strategic PR practitioners know the importance of “boundary-spanning” and understanding the .   

In engaging in a public rhetorical battle, both parties could claim a success in generating media coverage, but are they helping the public to understand the issues or achieving any long-term goals here?

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.