Ryanair and The Art of Bad PR

17 10 2013

Ever since PR people first started talking about social, we have shared warning’s of the dire consequences of allowing negative stories to spin out of control online.

The first really big one was ‘Dell Hell’ when tech blogger Jeff Jarvis wrote a damning post and told the PC manufacturer to “put that in your Google and smoke it”.  That online PR train wreck contributed to Dell losing 25% of its value in the 12 months that followed.

So why would a company actively seek to create an online shit storm? This week Ryanair announced on Twitter that it wanted suggestions for improving customer service, it even used a hashtag #TellMOL (that’s Michael O’Leary).  Nigel Sarbutts of Brandalert described it as a “social media car crash” waiting to happen.  Bear in mind O’Leary who summed up his take customer service thus “people say the customer is always right, but you know what – they’re not.  Sometimes they are wrong and they need to be told so.”  Most companies accept that really poor customer service should ultimately lead to some form of recompense.  Not so MO’L who said; “you’re not getting a refund so f**k off. We don’t want to hear your sob stories. What part of ‘no refund’ don’t you understand?”

There is little doubt that O’Leary wants controversy.  Mark Pinsent, Social and content lead at Metia summed it up neatly; “If there was ever a company happy to invite and handle consumer vitriol, it’s Ryanair.”  The Ryanair boss is very much of the “no publicity is bad publicity school”. Here he is again; “Short of committing murder, negative publicity sells more seats than positive publicity”.

That said people aren’t really going to waste much time asking Ryanair to provide comfier seats and in-flight entertainment.  I also don’t think that too many people will be lulled into venting their spleen through such a bogus campaign. It will probably turn out to be a shit storm in a teacup.  There aren’t many people that can pull off the trick of turning bad PR into profit but O’Leary is a master so far.  His Ratner moment may be yet to come.

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