Theory says that managing conflict is an essential part of PR, that helps companies build trustworthy relationships with their stakeholders. You’d normally think that as long as you keep your client out of conflict which might generate future crisis, you’re doing your job properly. Well, this is not the case if working for Ryanair, whose approach to handling conflict is quite controversial and it’s what sets the brand apart from its competitors.
Let’s take a look at one example: in August 2012 Ryanair failed to address a social media crisis, initiated by an angered customer who had complained about having to pay €300 for printing six boarding passes and won the support of 357,000 users on Facebook. What was Ryanair’s response?
Absolutely nothing, as they choose not to engage with their target audiences through social media, being afraid, probably, of the massive criticism they’d have to face and respond to directly.
Eventually, everything got into the media, where Michael O’Leary, the CEO, called the client who started the conflict “an idiot who deserves to pay for her stupidity”. How to react to that? It clearly shows that Ryanair, as a brand, has no idea how to build an effective relationship with its key stakeholders, customers. Surprisingly, they are still on top as one of the most profitable low-cost airlines.
How does this work?
Well, for Ryanair, the key issue is to be in the news, to be argued about in TV shows, so that people are aware of them and know that they are a convenient means of getting to their destinations. They basically use any kind of conflict to appear in the media and they clearly know how to take advantage of negative publicity.
Why are they successful?
Mainly because no matter how many conflicts they get involved in, their prices remain low and this is what matters to their customers. They do not expect outstanding customer service our impressive travelling conditions, they just care about the value for money.
The main question that arises is whether using conflict as a PR tool is ethical or not. Personally, I think that Ryanair has given up the idea of being seen as an ethical company due to the massive criticism they’ve been facing in the last couple of years and as long as their strategy of getting in the media with scandals, false advertising, hidden costs and frustrated customers still works, they won’t do anything to change it.
What is your view on Ryanair’s approach? Can conflict be used as a PR tool?