How do you solve a problem like Michael? For years the direct, foul-mouthed, aggressive, macho antics of Ryanair's founder have earned newspaper headlines castigating O'Leary for calling customers
stupid and telling anyone who wants a refund that they should, shall we say, go forth and multiply. Everyone in the media has O'Leary stories and knowing a few pilots I have quite a few more that
would probably land me in hot water for repeating. So, suffice to say, the guy is never going to win a charm contest and probably isn't the cosy boss the office juniors take down the pub on a Friday
night for a chat about the week. On a more positive note, apparently away from work, if you're involved with training or turning out his race horses, it turns out he can be quite a nice guy.
Surprised? Well, this brings us to one of the biggest opportunities in adland for many years. O'Leary has been quiet of late. He promised that he and the airline were changing back
in the autumn on issuing a profit warning following a drop in passenger numbers. Put simply, he's shut his very large mouth and stopped blasting out stories about how he's going to charge for people
using toilets and will charge fat people more to fly.
Flying with Ryanair is okay, as long as everything goes well. You pay a low fare, there are no frills and the destination airport is
the name in the brackets after the famous place you've heard of -- I still have a hire car awaiting pickup in Hamburg after landing some 100km or so away in Hamburg (Lubeck), the equivalent of London
(Brighton). Problems arise, as always, when you encounter an issue. I, for one, was disgusted at booking a return flight with the airline on a route they later decided to stop flying halfway through
my trip. Rather than offer an apology and a refund, they simply said I'd have to fly back sooner before the route closed, regardless of the fact that this meant cutting short a trip and paying for
hotel nights I couldn't use.
Everyone knows it comes from the top. There's a horrid guy running Ryanair and it filters down to having no decency in treating customers well, even when you
are the reason for the issue they have encountered.
But that's what's going to make taking on Ryanair accounts so appealing. It's not like you can fail and make them any less popular. There
is only room for improvement -- and just imagine the presentations in a year's time when agencies boast of better brand perception, favourability and so on.
The one big challenge is going
to be Michael O'Leary himself. If the airline can keep him quiet -- and it's doing a pretty good job at the moment -- we'll have no macho, egotistical, headline-grabbing sound bites of whatever popped
into his mind that he could say he is going to charge for as he walked into a tv or radio interview room. Honestly, there really is such a thing as bad publicity when it comes to O'Leary.
So buckle up those seat belts. The first tv will run soon, there will be a Web site that doesn't look like it's a sixth-form project in Web design, and from the summer, there will be a roster of
agencies helping the airline turn a promise that it will change in to a record.
Good luck, it will be a very bumpy ride -- but considering the starting point, it's hard to see how it could
be anything but a dream gig.