Johnson & Johnson Crisis Communications

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Running head: JOHNSON & JOHNSON
Week 6: Case Study: Johnson & Johnson
Shawana Battie
Walden University

In 1982, Johnson & Johnson was a trusted company with a solid reputation. In September, the company faced a great challenge as bottles of Tylenol were laced with cyanide by an unknown source. Although, Johnson & Johnson had no crisis communications plan in place at that time, they embarked on a strategic plan to regain the trust of consumers and to avoid this type of crisis from happening again. This crisis labeled the Tylenol Murders forced Johnson & Johnson to form a crisis communications team with one overriding priority; too warn the public. Johnson & Johnson’s credo stated that the company had four responsibilities in the following order of priority: to the consumer, to the employees, to the communities, and to the stockholders (Fearn-Banks, 2011). Johnson & Johnson credo guided the team as they worked at saving the company’s image and reputation. According to our textbook, the three points that made Johnson & Johnson successful at dealing with the crisis included being open to the media and the willingness to recall the product. I also think that Johnson & Johnson’s timely response played a part in why the company was successful at dealing with the crisis. When the company first learned of the crisis an immediate meeting between the company executives took place. It is my belief that due to nature of the crisis, a response to the deaths related to Tylenol operated on an as soon as possible basis. The executives all said it was a period of great fear (Fearn-Banks, 2011) because at that point, it was unknown as to how the capsules were tainted. A crisis communications team was formed to find out “what type of sickness they were dealing with” and James Burke approved the recall of Tylenol capsules from stores in the Chicago area. The crisis team did react quickly but as our textbook points out, speed increases risk. The primary risk associated with speed is the potential for inaccuracies (Coombs, 2012). The spokesperson stated that cyanide wasn’t used in Tylenol plants but later found out that it was. Although the case study did not mention if the organizations lawyers were involved, I learned that lawyers do frequently advise clients in an event of a crisis. They often advise clients to say nothing, reveal what information they do have, deny blame or guilt, and provide the firm reminder that anything you say can be held against you in a court of law. As our textbook describes, both professions must be heard and considered (Fearn-Bank, 2011). I would imagine that even though the case study made no mention of lawyers, the organization immediately consulted with legal counsel as well. Especially during the beginning of the crisis when they were not sure how the tainted capsules got in the bottle and who was to blame for the murders. Through further investigation, I learned that families of the victims did indeed file a lawsuit against the company and the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount in 1991. During my review of this case, the organization mentioned one spokesperson named Robert Andrews but appeared to have other people who spoke on behalf of the company which included the Corporate Vice President and the Chairman of McNeil, David Collins. Multiple spokespersons can be beneficial as no one is an authority on all subjects. Multiple spokespersons can work together to be one collective voice. Johnson & Johnson at the time had 165 companies in 53 countries; as a result, I am sure each individual company had its own public relations department and spokesperson. I am unsure as to how prepared the spokespersons were in this case, as noted; the company had no Crisis Communications Plan at the time. Therefore, no key messages were thought out and there was no plan intact to handle internal and external publics. However, I do believe that the spokesperson...
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