Johnson & Johnson Tylenol Cyanide Crisis

Compiled Spring 2003 by Professor Ron Smith for students at Buffalo State College

Facts

Fall 1982: 7 people near Chicago died of cyanide poisoning
Linked to Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules
Capusules had 10,000 times lethal dose

Nationwide alert
Media
Food & Drug Administration

Panic:
Chicago hospital received 700 calls in one day
People hospitalized throughout country on suspicion of poisoning

270 copycat tampering throughout nation (only 36 verified)

Tainted capsules from 4 manufacturing lots
Tampered with over several weeks/months


Research

Johnson & Johnson

Tylenol most profitable product of Johnson & Johnson
CEO James Burke
PR VP Larry Foster

J&M had crisis plan but no preparation for tragedy of this scale
Corporate PR part of J&J management

J&J turned to its corporate philosophy from 1940s, "Our Credo"
Credo cites responsibility to consumers, employees, committees, stockholders
Founder Robert Johnson believed credo was both moral and profitable

..

Publics


Strategy

Objectives

PR Action/Response

Communication Strategy


Tactics


Evaluation

Recurrence 4 years later, one person died
J&J withdrew capsules entirely (cost: $180 million)
76% in national poll said J&J had done enough to ensure product safety


PR Lessons

  1. "Do Gooder" philosophy can work in corporate America
  2. A good reputation can save a company during a crisis
  3. Consumers are willing to trust a company that appears to be committed to their interests
  4. When a company is victimized along with its consumers, the ability to recover is high
  5. Public relations does contribute to the "bottom line" of a corporation


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Contact Ron Smith at smithrd@buffalostate.edu.