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Elise Marie Trent • 703.927.8109 • 417 Comstock Avenue #208 Syracuse, NY 13210 • @EliseMarieTrent •

Reputation Management: A Comparison of the 1982 and 2010 Tylenol Recalls by Johnson & Johnson

For the second year in a row, PR Newswire (2010) reported Johnson & Johnson secured the title of the “most reputable U.S. company.” This is a considerable achievement as “reputation was, is, and always will be of immense importance to organizations” (Watson, 2010, p. 339). Although Johnson & Johnson has been previously ranked as having a positive company reputation, Brønn (2010) explained, “a reputation is not a result of packaging, catchy slogans, or clever communication campaigns. An organization’s reputation rests on every single thing it does” (p. 318). In the past year, Johnson & Johnson has repeatedly deviated from its traditionally strong and responsible crisis management protocol with potentially damaging repercussions.

Johnson & Johnson’s most recent product recall occurred on October 18, 2010. The company issued a product recall for approximately 128,000 units of Tylenol 8 Hour due to a reported strange, musty odor believed to be from the pesticide TBA (Singer, 2010; Tylenol, 2010). In conjunction with this recall, “more than 150 million units of Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl, and Zyrtec for adults, infants and children” have been recalled across at least six incidents in the previous 12 months (DeNoon & Martin, 2010; Singer, 2010).

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg has been openly disapproving of Johnson & Johnson’s recent behavior, stating “many people have noted that way back when, J&J was a model for responding to public health concerns and providing information to the public in a timely and open way, and their behavior of late has been somewhat different” (Pierson, 2010).

In an effort to restore consumer faith surrounding the quality of Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson will be conducting several marketing campaigns (Todd, 2010). CEO William Weldon stated the campaigns would be targeted at consumers and physicians, however, he did not elaborate on the content of the marketing campaigns in his Star-Ledger interview (Todd, 2010).

As a personal recommendation, I would encourage CEO William Weldon to not only address traditional media like the Star-Ledger but to speak to consumers through newer mediums. One suggestion would be to film a video statement that can be posted to the company website and shared on social media platforms. A second avenue would be for the company to create a microsite, attached to the corporate website, pertaining to the recall and update consumers regularly through blog posts, video statements, and tweets.

Although there is a clear difference between cyanide poisoning and the minor ailments reported from TBA contamination, Johnson & Johnson’s communication with affected publics in 2010 differed drastically from 1982 (DeNoon & Martin, 2010). In both cases, Johnson & Johnson endured a heavy financial toll by recalling all Tylenol in 1982 and by stopping production at the contaminated plant in 2010. However, in 1982, the contamination was the result of an unknown assailant and the 2009-2010 pesticide contaminations were a result of Johnson & Johnson plant procedures. Because of the current higher level of responsibility for the problem at hand, I believe Johnson & Johnson should undertake an aggressive communication campaign to speak with consumers about what’s being done to resolve the contaminations at the plant and how this problem will be eliminated in the future. Reaching out

Elise Marie Trent • 703.927.8109 • 417 Comstock Avenue #208 Syracuse, NY 13210 • @EliseMarieTrent •

to consumers on social media does open the avenue for individual consumers to voice their concerns over Tylenol, but it more importantly opens the avenue for Johnson & Johnson to communicate with concerned individuals as a way to rehabilitate their reputation. If Johnson & Johnson does not strategically use social media to respond to this crisis, consumers will be on the web talking about the crisis without them. Johnson & Johnson aggressively managed the 1982 crisis, setting high standards for the company to meet during future crises. The company has not met those standards in the 2009-2010 TBA contamination crisis.

Due to the blatant decrease in communication, transparency, and management between

1982 Tylenol recall and the 2009-2010 recalls, Johnson & Johnson may have irreversibly damaged its

relationship with consumers; Ultimately, “better regarded

do the right things” (Fombrun, 1996, p. 8). Because the October 18th recall is the sixth such recall in a

string of pesticide-related contaminations and Johnson & Johnson has responded with limited public communication, the company does not appear to be doing the “right thing” to manage this crisis or its reputation.

not only do things right - they

Elise Marie Trent • 703.927.8109 • 417 Comstock Avenue #208 Syracuse, NY 13210 • @EliseMarieTrent •


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.again: Musty odor spurs another recall

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Todd, S. (2010, November 07). Johson & Johnson’s CEO looks ahead in wake of highly publicized drug recalls. Retrieved November 19, 2010, from johnsonjohnsons_ceo_looks_ahea.html

Tylenol. (2010, October 18). McNeil Consumer Healthcare announces voluntary recall of one product lot of Tylenol 8 Hour caplets 50 count sold in the United States and Puerto Rico [Press release]. Retrieved November 10, 2010, from

Watson, T. (2010). Reputation models, drivers, and measurement. In R.L. Heath (Ed.), The Sage handbook of public relations (pp. 339-351). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications