Ryanair – do they care about their (cost management) reputation?

We all know how important reputation is to companies these days. We sell the whole concept of Corporate Social Responsibility on the basis of the risks to organisations in terms of their public image if they don’t take good care on those issues, including those of a supply chain nature.

Everyone’s nodding, right? Stating the blindingly obvious really.

But.. then you look at Ryanair and wonder. This Guardian article made the very good point that Michael O'Leary does not seem to care about his image or the firm’s reputation too much. Being sued by a pilot who claims he was sacked for drawing attention to safety issues. Getting press coverage for threatening to charge for use of toilets. And so on and so on over many years

This all looks like a firm that doesn’t care about its reputation. And Zoe Williams in the Guardian drew the conclusion that reputation doesn’t really matter. “If reputation really mattered, and everyone really hated them, nobody would use them and they'd go bust”.

But I would draw a somewhat different conclusion, and suggest that reputation does matter – the issue is the nature of that reputation. Let’s look at things more closely. Every issue that has been highlighted has achieved two things. Firstly, from the beginning, these ideas and moves have gained O'Leary and Ryanair valuable – and free – publicity, particularly important when he was the upstart competing against huge, financially and commercially powerful rivals.

And secondly, pretty much everything plays towards the public positioning and image of the firm as one that offers superb value for money. No frills, sometimes not the best experience – but the cheapest flights you can find. If you want extras, you pay for them. When we think about it, there hasn’t actually been any bad publicity about real safety issues, or environmental questions. The “reputation”, supposedly negative, is all around tight management and an obsessive focus on costs.

So actually, the reputational issues all support the core strategic positioning of the firm, that of the lowest price provider in the market. If you go away from the press report thinking, “my goodness, that Michael O'Leary is a tight b*****d” – then that’s exactly what he wants you to think. He’s not stupid!

Voices (4)

  1. Dan:

    Ryanair are honest about what they do. Their reputation would be a lot worse if they tried to spin everything and distract attention from their policies. That counts for a lot.

  2. lizzy daniel:

    Just stepped off a Ryanair flight and catching up on a few emails in Dublin airport when I saw this. I agree – it seems they go out of their way to “emphasise the point” that Ryanair is no frills. Even where they could make the experience a little more pleasant without extra cost, they opt for the hard-nosed, tight-fisted and generally down-trodden experience. I only fly with them because they have a monopoly on my local-to-Dublin route.

  3. Paul Hughes:

    Well researched article. Michael O’Leary is the CEO of Ryanair, not Michael Ryan.

    1. Peter Smith:

      Thanks, very careless, now changed – and of course I knew that, put it down to three days of loud music over the weekend. The brain cells bailing out on me after a few minutes of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats I suspect…!

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