Twenty-five years ago, when seven people died in the Chicago area after taking Tylenol Extra Strength capsules laced with cyanide, Johnson & Johnson, Tylenol’s parent company, was instantly and dramatically thrown into the public spotlight.
In order to save face, Johnson & Johnson’s swiftly reacted to this tragedy by a voluntary wide-scale product recall, and an in-depth investigation.
Mitchell Lean, of the Public Relations Journal stated in March of 1983 that “In a program perhaps unequaled by any other company, J&J capitalized on the fact that the tragedy was not of its making, and was able to generate and enormous degree of customer and employee support.”
The public relations decisions related to Tylenol’s crisis and the products strong comeback came in two phases.
Phase one was the crisis phase, which began with the news of cyanide poisonings. As the extent of the contamination was not immediately known there was grave concern for the estimated 100 million Americans using Tylenol.
By keeping the press informed on every step J&J was taking in order to remove the laced product from the shelves and restock it with un-laced product, allowed the public to stay informed via mass media as to what actions were being taken in order to resolve this crisis.
Phase two came as a wave of a 30-city video press conference via satellite. In the video conference all key issues were discussed and debated along with a Q&A session that allowed the public to be involved and informed.
Ultimately, Tylenol recovered from this crisis and is now stronger than ever.
The Tylenol tragedy proved once again that, public relations is a business of basics, and that the best public relations decisions are closely linked to sound business practices and responsible corporate philosophy.
By: Tristan Gorringe
VP of Chapter Services
Central Washington University PRSSA