Selfless, Candid, and Quick: Is That All There Is to Crisis Management?
In 1982, seven people died after taking cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules. It was a potential disaster for the brand as well as for its parent company, Johnson & Johnson. For 60 days, J&J worked through the thorny issues of how to overcome this tragedy and regain consumer confidence. J&J's exemplary handling of the situation is often cited as having set the standard for crisis management.
Over time, the lessons from J&J have been reduced to: "put the public interest before profits, be candid, and be quick." The actual details of J&J's activities have been lost or ignored, as have the real lessons about what it takes to recapture the consumer's trust and loyalty. This case provides an account of the day-to-day activities that made J&J's response effective.
This case is not meant to be used in isolation, but as a point of departure for thinking about what J&J did, why it worked, and most important, how this incident differs from other crisis situations. In addition to the case, students should be assigned to read selected articles about a current crisis. In the teaching note for this case, we use as a comparison Coca-Cola's handling of crisis situations in Europe and India.