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 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 PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.