At first glance it is easy to label the latest headlines for low-cost airline, Ryanair, as a PR disaster – but this analysis would be wrong on many counts.
Firstly, is this actually a disaster for Ryanair? In terms of sales, having your £10 fares shown across the broadcast, online and tabloid media is free publicity. Even BBC Breakfast this morning had two huge images of the offending advert in shot during its report of the story.
Focusing on the sales impact is important as it reminds us that the issue relates to an advert – which was planned (not by any professional external agency as I recall of Ryanair’s strategy) to generate sales. The resulting controversy was no accident, it was deliberately courted by Michael O’Leary and his team at Ryanair – it was placed in the Daily Mail for goodness sake.
Secondly, even if an advert does create unforeseen problems, can this be called a PR disaster – surely it is a management, marketing or advertising disaster?
Or do those using the term mean it is a disaster for the organisations’ public relations and reputation? Well what about Ryanair’s reputation? It positions itself as pugnacious; picking fights with the authorities wherever possible. The response to the ASA is typical and laughable:
The ASA becomes more Monty Pythonesque by the day. It is remarkable that a picture of a fully-clothed model is now claimed to cause ‘serious or widespread offence’, when many of the UK’s leading daily newspapers regularly run pictures of topless or partially-dressed females without causing any serious or widespread offence.
“This isn’t advertising regulation, it is simply censorship. This bunch of unelected self-appointed dimwits are clearly incapable of fairly and impartially ruling on advertising.”
This campaign could be said to be a PR success then – it has generated enormous amounts of coverage (just imagine the output measures: Advertising Value Equivalent, Opportunities to See, talkability, etc etc). And, it has built on the reputation that Ryanair has carefully crafted. If PR’s job is to manage reputation – then it has met its objectives here.
What about PR’s role in relationships? Clearly this campaign, like most of those undertaken by Ryanair, has not improved relationships with key influencers and stakeholders. But the point is, that O’Leary doesn’t seem to care. So these folk aren’t assessed as priority for developing relationships.
Provided the airline has bums on seats, staff who will work within its culture and shareholders happy with making profits, Ryanair is achieving its corporate objectives. Yes, this is a short-term view, and when the airline needs friends, it will find them short on the ground.
The answer isn’t to generate lots of hot air around this trivial advert, but to ask why other airlines haven’t been able to better an airline that treats most of its publics with contempt, and relishes a nasty reputation.
We might not like Ryanair’s PR strategy. It might not fulfil Grunig’s definition of “excellent”. We can question why the airline’s public relations does not extend to any attempt at being responsible (beyond having a good safety record). But ultimately, we have to judge the PR activities of Ryanair against the corporate aims. Today, I bet Mr O’Leary and his PR/marketing gang are very happy with the results of their sad little advert. This is not a PR disaster.