On Message: EasyJet’s PR message is cloud and clear

On Message: PR Week editor Danny Rogers on marketing and branding

The carrier’s ash sensor experiment generated great coverage, but a great reputation takes more than that, says Danny Rogers

EasyJet enjoyed a major PR success on Friday when chief executive Andy Harrison announced – on the Today Programme, among others – that the airline would be first to test an ash cloud sensor.

On TV there were lots of lovely graphics showing as easyJet-branded aircraft skirting nasty ash clouds with its shining sensor. Meanwhile, the relaxed, open-collared Harrison managed to deliver plenty of key PR messages, such as “easyJet will continue to offer the lowest fares to the most convenient airports”.

But how much of this will deliver real operational advantage? And more importantly, is easyJet’s reputation actually being seriously undermined by operational and service issues?

Let’s be fair, this was excellent PR by easyJet. It was a relatively quiet news day on the business and travel front, and Harrison got good exposure.

Under closer scrutiny, he admitted that at most a dozen of easyJet’s fleet would be fitted with these sensors by the ‘end of the year’; unlikely to prove a game-changer I would suggest. And if the CAA endorses the technology – which presumably it must have to do – then it is difficult to see other airlines prevented from using it. A good thing for travellers, of course.

It is true to say that easyJet has become well-positioned as innovative and customer-focused, which is more than can be said of its main low-cost rival, Ryanair.

Stelios’s creation is close to announcing a booking engine that could be embedded in social networking site Facebook. This would be a first for a low-fares airline in the social media space, and one can see its potential. For example, any group of friends or family organising an overseas event – a popular use of Facebook – could individually book the trip without leaving the area of conversation. Very handy.

All of which helps consolidate easyJet’s position as Europe’s ‘nice’ upmarket low-fares operator. Unfortunately, the airline’s customer delivery often tells a different story. According to www.flightstats.com easyJet’s punctuality is almost the worst in Europe. In May, only 62% of its aircraft arrived on time, while more than 3% were ‘excessively late’ (more than 44 minutes).

Indeed, when I flew back from Rome on easyJet last weekend, my flight was delayed by more than four hours. This stress was exacerbated by a complete dearth of information from ground staff in Rome. And when finally in the air, the captain mumbled some apology about the aircraft having to fly somewhere else first. Hardly a case of operational prowess.

And, as one of budget carrier Go’s first passengers in the late 1990s (Go was later bought by easyJet) I still can’t get used to not having an allocated seat, particularly the elbow-driven chaos that ensues. Heaven help the old and the weak trying to get on board.

So all credit to the orange airline for its new-found PR and social media confidence, but also a warning: customer experience is the single most important marketing weapon. One only needs to look on Twitter to see that my recent experience on easyJet was far from rare.

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