Are you a dream weaver, fence mender, or both?

Photo_verybig_5581I often chuckle when I see another chief communications officer or global holding company CEO say that PR has finally earned a seat at the table.

We clearly haven't; at least not the majority of us anyway. If you doubt me, just review the Goldman Sachs, BP or Johnson & Johnson scandals. Each proved one of two realities: the CCO was either kept completely out of the decision-making loop or, worse, was told to spin some feel-good tale to make the negative coverage about customer gouging, environmental rape and dangerous products, respectively, go away.

Ryanair is just the latest example of a major company without a CCO at the table (or, in the cockpit, if you prefer). In case you missed it, the low-cost airline's CEO just called his customers "idiots."

Michael O'Leary, who has pioneered such a la carte pricing delights as extra bag and exit row seat fees, and even threatened to charge passengers a £2 fee to use the on-board loo, is now tacking on a 60-Euro fee to passengers who fail to print their boarding passes before they arrive at the airport!

One passenger 'aired' her complaints about the fee on Facebook and Ryan struck back hard, writing: "We think Mrs. McLeod should pay 60 euros for being so stupid." Ouch. That CEO just said his customers are stupid and deserve to be charged extra for making stupid mistakes. Holy damage control, Batman!

I guarantee Ryanair's PR person is having a bumpy ride right now. The media love stories about large, uncaring businesses taking advantage of the little guy. And competitors have got to be capitalizing on O'Leary's blunder to lure Ryanair fliers away (i.e. 'We liken Birkhahn Air passengers to Einstein and Edison. Flying with us is a brilliant decision').

Until, and unless, PR folks are more fully engaged in product design, customer service and CEO commentary, we'll never be credible in claiming to have earned a seat at the table.
(Note: And if you'd like to know why the cheapest and most effective public relations is, in fact, extraordinary customer service, I strongly suggest you read Frank Eliason's new book @Your Service. It'll arm you with the ammunition needed to explain why PR SHOULD have a seat at the table).

A smart chief communications officer would have spotted the intrinsic image and reputation  dangers inherent in a Ryanair's la carte pricing and, if nothing else, created a crisis plan that would have muzzled O'Leary and prevented his outrageous comment. Ditto for whoever was at the helm when Goldman, BP and J&J went South.

The sad truth is that most chief executive officers STILL see chief communications officers and PR firms in one of two simplistic ways: dream weavers or fence menders.

It's high time we stop proclaiming victory and start realizing we're STILL not immersed in two of the most important parts of any business: product design and customer service.

I wouldn't call us idiots. But, I would call us naïve.

7 thoughts on “Are you a dream weaver, fence mender, or both?

  1. Pretty to think so, Repman, but he ended up just another rich guy with an estate in the Bahamas.

  2. Great stuff, Peter. If memory serves, Freddie Laker married Kareem Abdul Jabbar and, together, the tandem won three NBA championships.

  3. I miss Freddie Laker. I have no idea what he was like outside the commercials, but he seemed like a friendly bloke who happened to run a discount airline. I bet he relied on his PR people too. ANd yeah, look where it got him.

  4. Thanks Lovetorun69. You may indeed be right that O’Leary desires little more than to be remembered as the Chainsaw Al Dunlap of the airline industry. But, what a sad and sorry legacy that is.

  5. I think O’Leary wants to be the Simon Cowell of the airline industry. It’s a formula that, unfortunately, has been pretty successful. I think many will view him as more of a way less funny Don Rickles than the devil incarnate. Jet Blue has awesome customer service, but I’d be hard-pressed to recall their CEO’s name. And that may be the point: name recognition. O’Leary will no doubt be frequently described as ‘brash’, which is far less off-putting then ‘arrogant jerk’. But I totally agree, Repman. Not only are CCO’s not regularly invited to the table, they’re often forced to eat in the kitchen.

  6. I’d like to think a horrible CEO like O’Leary will get his comeuppance. But, I also believe good guys can finish first and look where that’s gotten me.

  7. Wow! You’re right Repman, all those CCO types and sychophantic agency leaders who brag about finally getting a “seat at the table” are lying to themselves.
    I wonder: if Mrs. O’Leary didn’t raise any fools, who raised Michael?