Anthony Hilton: Ryanair’s O’Leary reaps the goodwill

Michael O’Leary is as far as you could get from the buttoned-up respectability of the City. The chief executive of Ryanair – which this week announced a 25 per cent drop in profits – is not known to let tact and discretion get in the way of a good soundbite.

But this is laced with considerable charm, great energy and a genuine lack of self-importance and pomposity – the media love him, and so, it seems, does the City. It helps that what he says usually turns out to be right, but it helps more that he knows how to say it.

O’Leary understands the basic principles of PR. He talks to the press, is amusing and down to earth. He comes across as on top of his business and is never afraid to make a shrewd comment about a competitor. When he says Ryanair is a no-frills carrier he means just that. Anyone wanting anything beyond the basic package has to pay, be it for a wheelchair or a sandwich. In the frequent rows that erupt over such matters, O’Leary is rarely found to apologise.

It is an interesting paradox that his comms effort with professionals is so much better than his PR, but in spite of the fact that few businesses are more customer focused than cut-price airlines it does not seem to matter. The adage that any publicity is good publicity works for him. Indeed, his image is carrying him through a downturn. Normally the media and the City queue up to stick the knife in when a hero has a setback. But the general attitude to the profit drop is one of relief because with high fuel prices and intense competition it could have been worse. The trick is the old one of no surprises.

O’Leary warned investors of the danger from the proliferation of cut-price carriers while giving journalists and analysts a story. So it is not surprising that, despite the profit fall, they still love him.

anthony.hilton@haynet.com

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