How not to deal with a PR crisis

As some of you know already, I spent a couple of months working on CEO reputation focusing on crisis situations. I have been digging into case studies, news, videos of press conferences with the mission of getting an insight into successful behaviour. Today I am writing about Ryanair, which has lately been notorious with issues around customer service, pilot’s strike and cancelled flights. I wonder why it is so hard to do the right thing for a major business like Ryanair.


Recently with the scandal arising from an alleged racist abuse video which went viral, the company is again in the spotlight. To highlight the nature of the crisis, it is worth mentioning that the video has been watched by 1.5 million views. Why is Ryanair finding it so difficult to overcome this crisis? Well, in my opinion the first issue surrounds the lack of reaction from Michael O’Leary – the CEO. In such situations, the media would expect the CEO to show greater visibility and strong leadership.

A crisis is an unpredicted event with potentially negative consequences. I am saying potentially because if the company act accordingly and provide enough information to keep the journalists satisfied, the damage will be limited. From what we can see so far, Ryanair failed to handle the situation as it was taking place, which effective staff training could have prevented, and afterwards handling the coverage in the media with an adequate response, especially from the CEO, which could have prevented the crisis from escalating further.

The airline response was ‘We are aware of this video and have reported this matter to Essex Police’ on their twitter feed and “as this is now a police matter, we cannot comment further” in response to media enquiries. Seriously? This statement reminds me of a priceless insight which I learned while conducting the interviews for my MA dissertation. Dave Mason and Paul Blanchard were sharing the opinion that the CEO must listen to the legal department and the Communications team at equal measure. Probably some of you may think this is not the best way of dealing with such situations because a legal enquiry could have a huge financial impact, while the bad reputation cannot be measured. Well, a company should spend great amounts of money for rebranding if reputation is inevitably lost. Even more, all those passengers affected by the CEO’s behaviour might refuse to buy tickets and the impact of this could be measured.

I am a big fan of low-cost companies myself as they give opportunities to travel at a  reasonable cost. Personally, I have never flown with Ryanair. But we are organising our next year’s holiday right now and it appears that Ryanair can be a very suitable choice for us. However, I will think twice before spending a penny with Ryanair and I bet there are plenty of people who think exactly like me. Like every other human being I genuinely expect and enjoy being showed empathy when needed, which we didn’t see in this case. However, improvements can be made with the right strategy, along with effective action from the CEO. So I am looking forward to how this will pan out.

Key recommendations for the CEO:

  • To be more visible.
  • To show empathy.
  • To improve staff training in such cases.

Thanks for reading my blog! Please let me know what are your thoughts and suggestions.