BBC claims Ryanair comms strategy simply boosted Panorama ratings

The BBC has claimed that Ryanair's controversial PR strategy around this week's BBC One Panorama documentary simply res­ulted in more people watching the programme.

‘Uncompromising’: Ryanair
‘Uncompromising’: Ryanair

In a seri­es of pre-emptive strikes, Rya­nair head of communications Stephen McNamara first called for Panorama to grant a full, unedited interview with chief executive Michael O'Leary. When this was not granted, Mc­Namara published all correspondence (see right) between Ryanair and Panorama.

But the BBC's head of comms for journalism John Shield responded sarcastically to this strategy: ‘We are an extremely busy comms operation. So, we are grateful to our professional colleagues at Ryanair for driving publicity for the show.'

The show, which focused on its ‘hidden charges' for customers and rows with suppliers, received 3.8 million viewers. This made it the second highest-viewed Panorama for 2009, with around one million more viewers than average.

One BBC insider suggested Ryanair called for editorial control because it knew no broadcaster would grant it, thus placing it in a position to criticise the BBC for unfairness. ‘It is not a bad tactic,' said the source. ‘They want to play ball and it gives them a reason to criticise Panorama.'

McNamara explained Ryanair's PR strategy: ‘What we wanted to achieve was to get rid of some of the mystique around Panorama.' He dubbed the programme a ‘30-minute advertorial for Ryanair'.

Porter Novelli crisis comms director Neil Bayley said the programme failed to damage the Ryanair brand.

‘Based on last night, I am more worried about the future of Panorama than Ryanair,' said Bayley.

‘The pre-emptive strike by the airline probably helped push up viewing figures. It is not a strategy I would advise in many situations, but in this case it may have worked. Panorama simply underlined that Ryanair knows what its customers want.'

Insignia Communications director Jonathan Hemus agreed: ‘Given that Panorama portrayed Ryanair as combative and uncompromising, like its chief executive, it is therefore unlikely to do any serious harm to its reputation.'

After the show O'Leary put out a mocking statement describing it as ‘more Bananarama than Panorama', and pledged 100,000 free seats for ‘each of the BBC's 11 lies'.


Email excerpts

From Vivian White (BBC)
Sent 4 September 2009
To Stephen McNamara
I understand that the Annual General Meeting of Ryanair is on 24 September. Please may we attend?
From Stephen McNamara
Sent 4 September 2009
To Vivian White
No. We have no intention of facilitating yet another BBC hatchet job.

From Stephen McNamara
Sent 24 September 2009
To Vivian White
Since you seem determined to proceed with another biased and unbalanced piece on the UK’s largest and favourite airline, Michael O’Leary is willing to appear on your programme, as long as you can facilitate either a live interview or agree to an uncut pre-recorded interview.


3.8m Viewers of BBC One Panorama Ryanair documentary

1m Increased Panorama viewers of Ryanair documentary over average

11 Ryanair’s claimed number of mistruths on show

67m Number of passengers who use Ryanair every year

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