Tylenol’s Crisis Plan: Comments Requested

PRSSA is taking an active role in commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Tylenol crisis communications plan and we’d like to include our members as much as possible. Please take note of the action item at the bottom of this post.

If you’re not familiar, Tylenol suffered a crisis in 1982 when seven people in Chicago were killed with cyanide-laced Tylenol caplets. Several bottles were tampered with on the store shelves, leaving Johnson & Johnson to face a tragedy of which they were not directly to blame.

Corporate Vice President of Johnson & Johnson Lawrence G. Foster led a crisis communications plan that is viewed today as one of the benchmarks in the field. Tylenol recalled all of its product from the shelves, fully cooperated with the media and immediately offered a $100,000 reward for the killer (who remains at large today).

In the weeks to come, the company reintroduced the capsules with triple-seal tamper-resistant packaging. Tylenol gained the trust of the medical community and consumers through several tactics and ultimately gained much of its market share back in a matter of months.

So, how does PRSSA fit in? Several PRSSA members will be traveling to Penn State to interview Mr. Foster about his benchmark crisis plan. This interview will be videotaped and shown at PRSSA 2007 National Conference. The participating task force, led by Professor John Kerezy at Cuyahoga Community College, will also create supplemental materials for our chartered schools.

We will also invite PRSSA Chapters to add to the video shown at next year’s Conference. Many professionals in the field feel strongly about this case study and could add their insight through interviews with PRSSA members across the country. These Chapters could then send headquarters the video interviews to be merged with Mr. Foster’s interview from this winter.

While all of that may occur in the future, you can contribute right now. What questions would you like to ask Mr. Foster about this case study? Post your questions now so we can incorporate them into the December 1 interview.

Thank you in advance for your feedback!

The Tylenol crisis summarized by Tamara Kaplan:


1 thought on “Tylenol’s Crisis Plan: Comments Requested

    • Author gravatar

      When I began my public relations courses, Tylenol’s benchmark crisis communication’s case was one of the first studies that I was taught. Since then I have had an eager interest in corporate responsibility and these corporations ability to use effective public relations’ crisis communications.

      By handling the tragedy in a timely and efficient manner, Mr. Lawrence G. Foster paved the way for future crisis management in public relations. To facilitate our thorough understanding of this case study, I would be interested in learning the answers to the following questions:

      • How did Johnson & Johnson take care of the families of the Tylenol tragedy victims?
      • What past cases or research effectively prepared Mr. Foster in dealing with this crisis?
      • What was Mr. Foster’s initial reaction to the crisis? What message did he initially want to communicate and was it altered by research?

      I look forward to the results of your interview.

      Jessica Randazza
      National Vice President of Chapter Development
      The Public Relations Relations Student Society of America

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