Danny Rogers: Joined-up comms is not so easy for easyJet

Last week at the inaugural BrandMax conference, a John Lewis executive gave a stirring speech about how successful, 'joined-up' comms is about giving the same message to staff as to shareholders.

Danny Rogers: Joined-up comms is not so easy for easyJet
Danny Rogers: Joined-up comms is not so easy for easyJet

Pity poor easyJet then, whose biggest shareholder seems determined to act a competitor rather than a staff member.

This week it emerged that Stelios Haji-Ioannou - easyJet's founder and owner of a 38 per cent family shareholding - was planning to launch a competitor airline called Fastjet. EasyJet immediately responded with a warning to Sir Stelios that it would fight any such launch in the courts.

It was a final tragic irony for an airline that Stelios originally founded on brilliant, joined-up comms.

Back in 1995 easyJet's message was simple and consistent. Stelios was determined to 'make flying as affordable as a pair of jeans', urging travellers to 'cut out the travel agent'. Later he helped LWT create the TV series Airline, of which he became the star and which ultimately made easyJet a household name.

And most memorably, when British Airways launched its own low-cost carrier Go in 1998, Stelios' team managed to book numerous tickets on the inaugural flight, grabbing the headlines with their bright orange jumpsuits. It was classic 'challenger brand' PR straight out of Sir Richard Branson's handbook.

Now Stelios is once again the challenger, and his most famous creation the establishment. This year easyJet will carry close to 50 million passengers and hit a turnover of £3bn.

But in recent years Stelios, having stepped down as chairman in 2002, has been locked in numerous disputes with easyJet's executive board over their strategy for the airline. He has fought for control over the 'easy' branding, slammed the airline's expansion plans, and insisted on higher dividends for shareholders - ie him.

Even worse, the comms battle with his former baby has become fierce. He recently issued a statement effectively accusing easyJet's comms director Paul Moore of conducting a media smear campaign against him.

EasyJet finds itself with a highly unusual comms challenge, but then its founder was never your run-of- the-mill businessman. It could be that such intrigue and conflict is in the brand's DNA.

Another delicious irony is that easyJet is now forecasting full-year profits of £250m, the highest in its 15-year history and one reason it can pay a big dividend to shareholders.

This is a heavyweight PR fight on the scale of Ali vs Foreman. But for the first time in years Stelios may find himself outpunched.

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