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Burke gave high-profile media interviews, the company ran ads warning about the danger and established a hotline to dispense information.Despite evidence that only a small number of pharmacies in the Chicago area may have been at risk, Burke decided (against the opinions of his economic advisers, the FDA and FBI) to recall all Tylenol capsules nationwide – a total of 31 million bottles, at an expense of over a hundred million dollars.and CBS’ opening line was "When 12 year-old Mary Kellerman of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, awoke at dawn with cold symptoms; her parents gave her one Extra-Strength Tylenol and sent her back to bed. to find their daughter dying on the bathroom floor".
For the past week the Israeli press has been overflowing with accounts of dangerous bacteria being detected in the production facilities of major food companies: first in Unilever/Telma breakfast cereal plants, and upon the heels of that case, those of the Hanasich tehina production company that supplied salad products to various companies and outlets.
Regardless of whether or not criminal negligence can be proven, these cases were characterized by reticence to take responsibility, assumptions on the part of the producers that damage was minimal and would pass, the release of conflicting announcements, withholding (or covering up) critical information, and when matters were discovered, a focus on damage control and media tactics, together with (as I can establish at the time of writing) a failure to adopt a comprehensive strategic plan which would include rectification and rehabilitation.
What lessons can the Tylenol crisis teach the companies involved?
Crisis planning should take place before a crisis erupts.
The company claimed full responsibility and, in a first stage, immediately warned the public not to consume any form of Tylenol and ceased production of Tylenol capsules.
The company cooperated fully with police, health authorities and the media, and took a proactive stance.Adopt concrete measures to rectify all shortcomings.Communicate these changes actively and transparently, in an unwavering, unified message.Media reporting would continue to focus on Tylenol killing people until more information about what caused the deaths was made available.Throughout the crisis over 100,000 separate news stories ran in U. newspapers, and hundreds of hours of national and local television coverage.Communicate with your workers and involve them in your PR efforts.Undertake immediately a long-term strategic rehabilitation plan that will feature safe, quality products at substantial savings.Though there were those who questioned whether the Tylenol brand name should be used in future pain-relief products, Burke judged that the brand equity was sufficiently strong to overcome this setback.Within a month the company producers devised a unique, foolproof non-tamper bottle for which it alone held the patent, and redistributed Tylenol “caplets” in this new package at a discount.Parallel to these damage control efforts a crisis management team at the production subsidiary sprung into action and began drafting a longer-term strategic rehabilitation plan for “the days after.” Company spokespersons communicated with the workers to explain to them exactly what had taken place and assure them of the company’s faith in their professionalism and dedication.These employees, in turn, served as sources of information for their immediate family, their neighbors and the medical community. The crisis management team in the Tylenol Crisis immediately studied the lessons learned and drafted a longer-term rehabilitation plan.