Tiger Woods: Crisis Communication

Topics: Public relations, Crisis management, Tiger Woods Pages: 5 (1542 words) Published: August 31, 2010
Tiger Woods: Crisis Communication

Although Tiger Woods released several statements attempting to minimize not only the incident of his Escalade-tree collision but also the initial reports of a possible extramarital affair, the lack of full disclosure and the revelations of additional females stating that they too had affairs with Tiger have only fueled the media frenzy. Television entertainment news shows such as TMZ, Entertainment Tonight, The Insider, and Access Hollywood report on the Tiger Woods scandal daily. But these programs are no longer the primary source of information; the 24-hour availability of social media is truly pushing the story. Tiger was not in control of the narrative and found himself in a crisis management situation. What did he need to do to get in front of the story and to begin to rebuild his reputation?


Many business authors and researchers consider the way Johnson & Johnson (J&J) handled the cyanide-poisoning scare of 1982 as the “gold standard” for crisis management. In early 1982, Tylenol was the most successful non-prescription medication in the United States with over one hundred million users. The brand was responsible for 19 percent of J&J’s profits during the first 3 quarters of 1982. In addition, 13 percent of the company’s year-to-year sales growth and 33 percent of the year-to-year profit growth was the direct result of the brand. In the era before Ibuprofen (approved by FDA for OTC use in 1984), Tylenol was the leader in the painkiller field accounting for a 37 percent market share, outselling the next four leading painkillers combined. The Tylenol brand, itself, had profits that would have placed it in the top half of the Fortune 500 (ten Berge, 1991).

During the fall of 1982 an unknown person or persons, and for unknown reasons, laced Tylenol Extra-Strength capsules with cyanide and returned the product to the shelves of groceries, markets, and pharmacies in the Chicago area. The laced capsules were purchased and seven unsuspecting people died. Contaminated bottles continued to be discovered through October (Malcolm, 1982). J&J suddenly found itself in the middle of a situation that required skilled management and strong crisis communication.

J&J’s first action was to immediately alert consumers nationwide not to consume any type of Tylenol product in pill form. Not only did J&J stop the production and advertising of Tylenol, the company withdrew all capsules from stores in the Chicago area. Two more contaminated bottles were discovered and J&J ordered a national recall of every capsule, worth over $100 million. By withdrawing all Tylenol, J&J showed the consumers that they would rather take the financial risk of a recall rather than accept the public safety risk. In fact, within days the incident, J&J’s stock fell seven points, and within a month J&J’s market share of the OTC pain-reliever fell to eight percent (Lewin, 1986).

J&J used the all available media, including advertising, to issue the “do not use” alert, to announce the recall and to communicate their crisis response strategy. A 1-800 telephone hotline was established for consumers to call with inquiries concerning safety of Tylenol. Another toll-free number was established for news oulets to call and receive recorded messages with updated statements about the crisis (ten Berge, 1991). For the major press conferences held at corporate headquarters, J&J paid for and set up a live television feed via satellite to the New York metro area, allowing the press conferences to reach a national audience. J&J CEO, Jim Burke received additional positive media exposure through interviews on 60 Minutes and the Phil Donahue show (Fink, 1986).

In addition to the rapid PR campaign, J&J developed new safety seal packaging in which the boxes were glued shut; a plastic seal covered the necks of the bottles; and a foil seal was added over the mouth of the bottle under the cap. When Tylenol was...

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Coombs, W. T., & Holladay, S. J. (1996). Communication and attribution in a crisis: An experimental study in crisis communication. Journal of Public Relations Research, 8(4), 279–295.
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Fink, S. (1986). Crisis management: Planning for the inevitable. New York, NY: American Management Association.
Heider, Fritz. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Lewin, Tamar. (1986). "Tylenol maker finding new crisis less severe." The New York Times. 02/12/86.
Malcolm, A.H. (1982) “Another poisoned Tylenol bottle is found by Chicago investigators.” The New York Times. 10/22/1982.
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