How Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary turns every media interview into an opportunity

October 31, 2012 by Jonathan Hemus

Ryanair polarises opinion.  Its success shows that its low prices are attractive to many passengers, but the airline has attracted criticism for its customer service, advertising campaigns and pricing structure.  As a consequence it is often in the position of having to protect its reputation or engage in issues management (and occasionally crisis management too).

What cannot be denied is that its chief executive, Michael O’Leary, is a master of reputation management and understands the value of media relations.  More than this, he is the perfect media spokesperson for the company.  Listen to this week’s interview on BBC Radio FiveLive:

There are lessons for all spokespeople in his approach:

1) View every media interview as an opportunity

I suspect that Michael O’Leary rarely turns down an interview opportunity with programmes and publications which reach his target audience.  Too many executives are afraid of engaging with the media, even about benign matters, let alone when thinking about crisis communication.  Mr O’Leary views every interview – whatever the context – as an opportunity to communicate positive messages about Ryanair, or at the very least provide balance to the criticism that it attracts.

2) Take control of the interview

Too many spokespeople get to the end an interview and think “I wish I’d said X”, or “I meant to say Y”, even worse “I wish they’d asked Z”.  One of the key rules of media training is to take control of a media interview and set the agenda.  This means finding ways of communicating your key messages whatever the line of questioning.  This is taken to its extreme by Mr O’Leary who is assertive in getting his pre-planned point of view across, come what may.

3) Be real, be yourself

The best radio is entertaining, engaging and memorable.  None of this will happen if the interviewee is corporate, bland or faceless.  You must be yourself – but more so: energy, enthusiasm and personality lift an interview and grab the listeners’ attention.  No one could accuse Mr O’Leary of being bland: agree with him or not, he sounds passionate and authentic, two key qualities for a successful media spokesperson.

4) Live the brand

If you think I’m advising all spokespeople to communicate in the same style as Michael O’Leary, you couldn’t be more wrong. His tone of voice works because it is entirely in keeping with Ryanair’s brand positioning: down to earth, brash, straight forward – what you see is what you get.  It is the consistency of Mr O’Leary’s approach with Ryanair’s reputation that makes it so successful.  If a spokesperson for First Direct or John Lewis were to follow suit, the incongruity between them and their brand would be reputationally damaging.  The lesson?  Spokespeople (and especially chief executives) should epitomise the reputation of the organisation whom they represent.

Ryanair is one of those businesses that you either love or hate.  But one thing is for sure, its reputation is very clearly defined and as its most visible and active media spokesperson, CEO Michael O’Leary has played a vital role in delivering this.

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