Marketing Public Relations (PR) Ryanair

Michael O’Leary and his Pie R masterclass


By Gordon Young | Editor-in-Chief

September 8, 2023 | 5 min read

Editor-in-chief Gordon Young explains how the Ryanair honcho turned a potential PR disaster into a masterclass.

Michael O'Leary hit by pie

You have to hand it to Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary for being able to triumph through – pardon the pun – pieversity.

He had organized a PR stunt where he was to hand over a petition to a cardboard cutout of European Commission President Ursula von der Leven.

The petition called for a change in EU air traffic rules to separate lower airspace from higher altitudes. This is to specifically thwart French air traffic controllers grounding flights that are overflying the country – ie they have no intention of landing in France – every time they go on strike.

So far their actions have caused 1,000s of cancelations for services that are not using French airports.

“Europe’s passengers are sick of suffering unnecessary overflight cancelations during ATC flights,” said O’Leary.

And to make the point, here he was in Brussels with a petition signed by 1.5 million people.

A good, workmanlike example of corporate comms, but not the sort of stuff that would grab the headlines… until two women dressed in black emerged shouting “Welcome in Belgium,” as both hit him with cream pies. One connected with his face. The other went over the top of his head as he ducked to land squarely on his back.

They then shouted, “Stop the pollution of the ***** planes”. How O’Leary acted next turned what should have been a PR disaster into a triumph.

“Well done,” he said, clearly acknowledging that somebody mid-stunt cannot complain about a stunt. He then composed himself, removed his jacket and got back to business.

Later, he told a newspaper, “I have never had such a warm welcome. Unfortunately, it was environmentalists and the cream was artificial. I invite passengers to come to Ireland where the cream is better!”

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His company social accounts got into the act and tweeted: “Warm welcome in Brussels today to celebrate RYR’s 7 new routes for Winter 23. Passengers are so happy with our routes and petitions that they’re celebrating with cake. We’ve got tasty low fares!”

The result was his campaign got a much higher profile than he could ever have dreamed. For goodness sake, even we are writing about it.

Cynics might even wonder if he set the whole thing up himself. But of course, we know O’Leary can tell the difference between cream pies and pork pies.

Marketing Public Relations (PR) Ryanair

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