Danny Rogers: EasyJet has the experience to handle Stelios

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The Independent Online

EasyJet, an airline founded on the principles of inspired public relations, is finally rediscovering its mojo – despite the bizarre actions of its creator, Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

It emerged last week that Sir Stelios, still the airline’s largest shareholder with a 38 per cent stake, is planning to launch a rival airline called Fastjet.

Stelios resigned last year amid a long-running spat with easyJet’s current management over strategy. But he recently upped the ante, claiming a smear campaign against him in themedia. It is so different from the mid-Nineties when Stelios was rarely seen without an orange t-shirt in endless promotional stunts. He was the star of ITV’s Airline,making easyJet a household name. Sadly his declining love affair with the airline sapped easyJet’s confidence and PR sparkle.

But it is fighting back. The plans for Fastjet appear to have been leaked to the media by easyJet, which has taken the gloves off.

This combative stance can be explained by several factors. First, its chief executive Carolyn McCall is established, after 18 months, and last week forecast record profits. Second, McCall this year hired a new comms director, Paul Moore, to drive the PR strategy, along with Roland Rudd’s Finsbury for City PR. Moore formerly looked after thereputation of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic.

Thirdly, the airline’s punctuality has improved. EasyJet regularly came bottom of the table for late arrivals. But it will give business flyers a free flight if they arrive more than 15 minutes late during October and November.

EasyJet may have lost the chirpiness and orange boiler suits from its days as a challenger brand but it is gradually forging a fresh and rather formidable reputation. Danny Rogers is editor of PR Week