More Than 30 Years Later, Tylenol Incident Still a Crisis Comm Teacher

The Tylenol poisoning incident of 1982 is considered a great crisis communications lesson. Some even say Tylenol wrote the book on crisis communications/management. Those in the biz likely know the story well, but for those who don’t:

Time magazine has revisited the Tylenol incident of 1982 on the 32nd anniversary of the poisonings. According to the article, the case remains unsolved – who did it and why are still unknown factors – but the Tylenol pills laced with cyanide killed seven people in the Chicago area.

“Without a suspect to revile, public outrage could have fallen squarely on Tylenol — the nation’s leading painkiller, with a market share greater than the next four top painkillers combined — and its parent corporation, Johnson & Johnson. Instead, by quickly recalling all of its products from store shelves, a move that cost Johnson & Johnson millions of dollars, the company emerged as another victim of the crime and one that put customer safety above profit. It even issued national warnings urging the public not to take Tylenol and established a hotline for worried customers to call,” writes Jennifer Latson, author of the Time article.

“Tylenol relatively quickly re-established its brand, recovering the entire market share it lost during the cyanide scare. Though things could have gone very differently, the episode’s most lasting legacy has been in the annals of public relations, not poison control: the case has since become a model for effective corporate crisis management,” writes Latson.

With such a seemingly great lesson to learn from, why do we still hear of companies failing to handle crisis communications situations? BP is a company that comes to mind, and Toyota in 2012. What about the recent Malaysia Airlines fiasco? And then there are the smaller, but still relevant cases of general communications and PR blunders galore, like these top five PR blunders of 2013 and DiGiorno’s recent Twitter mistake (though the company handled it well).

Perhaps the Tylenol case needs to be revisited. See the link below for the Department of Defense’s case study on the incident.


For the original article, click here:
For the case study, click here: