Ryanair's new image taking flight under the cloud of a royal gaffe
Published 02/04/2014 | 02:30
MICHAEL O'Leary's latest gaffe is arguably most notable for the fact that he apologised afterwards.
In his speech to a high-level group of Irish and British parliamentarians in Dublin, Mr O'Leary said that addressing the "august body" reminded him of making love to the queen of England: "You know it is a great honour, you're just never sure how much pleasure it is going to be."
He was asked to withdraw the comments, which he did, apologising for any offence caused. But Mr O'Leary – known for his straight-shooting – has on a number of occasions taken aim at his foot and hit, while he's famously known (at least before Ryanair's recent rebirth as a more caring airline) for having regular pops at passengers.
Even Mr O'Leary has conceded that his loose patter and high jinks are no longer the image necessarily required for Ryanair. The appointment this year of Corkman Kenny Jacobs, as the airline's chief marketing officer, is meant to see Mr O'Leary take a step back from the front line of Ryanair's border with its customers.
"I'm very happy to take the blame and responsibility if we have a macho or overly abrupt culture," Mr O'Leary told shareholders at Ryanair's annual general meeting last year. "Some of that may well be my own personality deformities."
Even just last week, as Ryanair flew in journalists to London from all over Europe to tell them about the airline's new image, new website and new attitude to customers, Mr O'Leary couldn't quite help himself.
One female journalist asked Mr O'Leary why Ryanair had beautiful young blonde women in tight tops and dresses acting as hostesses for the event. She complained that they must be freezing.
Mr O'Leary pointed out that the women weren't Ryanair employees, but worked for an agency.
One of the women standing beside Mr O'Leary murmured something to him.
"Skye has assured me she's not that cold," Mr O'Leary told the room. "I will, of course, do everything in my power to warm her up."
But Mr O'Leary is the business equivalent of a rockstar. After the formal presentation in London, as a handful of journalists waited to speak to Kenny Jacobs, Mr O'Leary was mobbed like an A-lister on the red carpet.
Mr Jacobs said the company will be communicating its "great brand, great website, great-looking aircraft, great crew" and has "a great CEO who's kryptonite".
Mr Jacobs said that as a lever for the Ryanair brand, Mr O'Leary is "fantastic".
"As the marketing guy, I'm delighted to have a CEO who is a celebrity and a rockstar. He's almost a media in his own right that you can use in the right way," added Mr Jacobs.
"He's got a big engine and the business has a big engine so you absolutely want to keep that drive. It's a business that has still a challenger spirit. You want to be still the Robin Hood," he said.
"But as you get to the size that we're at and you operate in the number of counties that we operate in, you need to be a brand in your own right. That's why we'll use the full set of options that we have available."
For a time at least, that might still include a damage limitation response.