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Budget advertising: How Ryanair does it on the fly

RYANAIR doesn’t do long booze-soaked lunches with advertising agencies.

Nor does the budget airline hire celebrities for photoshoots.

And neither does Ryanair do targeted advertising campaigns planned weeks or months in advance.

"We have our own internal marketing department who turn around our ads in an hour," says Ryanair communications boss Peter Sherrard.

"We don’t use expensive agencies."

Anyone who opens the pages of a newspaper will instantly recognise a Ryanair ad: cheap, black-on-white, amateurish and basic.

But also very, very effective. No-one does ads like Ryanair.

Often coming close to the knuckle, the airline seizes on a topic in that day’s news and mischievously turns it round into a fast-as-lightning gag.

So when the British Army withdrew troops from Northern Ireland under the peace process during 2007, Ryanair knew it had an opportunity too good to miss.

"The ad showed a photograph of Sinn Féin politicians Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams being interviewed by the press.

"A speech bubble from Martin McGuinness’s mouth stated: ‘Ryanair fares are so low even the British Army flew home’."

The description comes not from Sherrard but in a ruling in November from Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority about the ad, which Ryanair ran in the Belfast Telegraph.

The standards watchdog received serious complaints from the public and a politician but rejected them all — much the glee of Ryanair, which enjoys a combative relationship with the authority.

"Timing, topicality and local relevance are key," says Sherrard when describing the approach taken to the airline’s quick-fire marketing campaigns.

The airline’s competitors have cleverly designed and lush print ads but no-one seems to get as much publicity as Ryanair, which loves to run spoofs on political leaders like British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

No matter what the reaction, the airline loves the publicity, acknowledging its ads are based on a schoolboy-ish sense of humour.

If any company believes the "all publicity is good publicity" line then it has to be Ryanair, which is not above turning around negative reports from aviation watchdogs to its advantage.

No other company in Ireland operates in this way but then again no other firm can claim justly to have changed the face of European aviation in the space of 10 years.

"We put a lot of effort into three areas: the lowest fares, being on-time and the fewest lost bags," says Sherrard.

"No-one can beat our low costs and low fares.

"Other airlines (in their marketing) focus on other areas because they are not cost leaders like Ryanair."

The airline’s media relations office consists of Sherrard and a colleague while an in-house team does the ads and a further 12 employees work as sales and marketing managers across Europe.

Sherrard concedes the airline’s madcap and cheap-as-chips marketing strategy would not suit every or indeed most businesses.

And he also knows the airline’s marketing strategy is an extension of everything the airline stands for: less red tape, cheaper flights for customers, more competition and more choice.

The airline’s colourful chief executive Michael O’Leary has won many admirers — and alienated many critics — by being the passenger’s friend and also the star of many an ad and publicity stunt.

Ryanair is continually waging war with regulators like the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), accusing the State body of imposing high charges on passengers flying out of Ireland.

Any other airline might welcome a new terminal to ease congestion at Dublin but Ryanair is deeply uneasy over the cost, saying the bill will total €800m and cause passenger charges to rise.

The DAA says the figure is €395m for a terminal that is badly needed for Dublin yet Ryanair is winning the war of words.

Ryanair’s lean marketing strategy wins few friends among critics in ad-land but O’Leary knows the pals he’d rather have: fare-paying passengers.

Ryanair is on course to carry 50 million passengers during 2007 on 605 routes between 137 destinations.

The airline probably just doesn’t have the time for long, boozy lunches with advertising agencies.