Sept 29-1982: Tylenol Kills 7, Gives Birth to Crisis Management PR

7 Killed By Cyanide Laced Tylenol

From Wikipedia

On the morning of September 29, 1982, twelve-year-old Mary Kellerman of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, died after taking a capsule of Extra-Strength Tylenol. Adam Janus of Arlington Heights, Illinois, died in the hospital shortly after. Adam’s brother Stanley of Lisle, Illinois, and wife Theresa died after gathering to mourn his death, having taken pills from the same bottle. Soon afterward, Mary McFarland of Elmhurst, Illinois, Paula Prince of Chicago, and Mary Reiner of Winfield also died in similar incidents. Investigators soon discovered the Tylenol link. Urgent warnings were broadcast, and police drove through Chicago neighborhoods issuing warnings over loudspeakers.

The media gave Johnson & Johnson much positive coverage for its handling of the crisis; for example, an article in The Washington Post said, “Johnson & Johnson has effectively demonstrated how a major business ought to handle a disaster.” The article further stated that “this is no Three Mile Island accident in which the company’s response did more damage than the original incident,” and applauded the company for being honest with the public. In addition to issuing the recall, the company established relations with the Chicago Police Department, the FBI, and the Food and Drug Administration. This way it could have a part in searching for the person who laced the capsules and they could help prevent further tamperings.

While at the time of the scare the company’s market share collapsed from thirty-five percent to eight percent, it rebounded in less than a year, a move credited to the company’s prompt and aggressive reaction. In November, it reintroduced capsules but in a new, triple-sealed package, coupled with heavy price promotions and within several years, Tylenol had become the most popular over-the-counter analgesic in the U.S.

The incident has been called the birth of crisis management.

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