Past headaches return for Tylenol?

The AP is reporting today that the 1982 “Tylenol killings” case is being revisited with new evidence seized in the Boston area.,2933,488025,00.html

If you are not familiar with the case; in a space of three days beginning Sept. 29, 1982, seven people who took cyanide-laced Tylenol in the Chicago area died. That triggered a national scare and a huge recall, and eventually led to the widespread adoption of tamperproof packaging for over-the-counter drugs. Nobody was ever charged, but James W. Lewis was believed to be the primary suspect. Lewis served more than 12 years in prison for sending an extortion note to Johnson & Johnson demanding $1 million to “stop the killing.”

With new evidence in the case emerging and the possibility of it being reopened means that Tylenol needs to start strategizing PR if more headlines come with the “Tylenol Killer.” Tylenol manufacturer Johnson & Johnson (J&J) executed phenomenal PR and damage control when the killings happened. In fact, the incident is a must-read case study for PR and MBA students and cited as among the best corporate responses to a crisis.

When it became clear that the victims all took Tylenol capsules, public announcements were made warning people about the consumption of the product. J&J had a huge headache to deal with- how to address the situation without destroying the reputation of the company and its single-most-profitable product. In order to save face, they swiftly reacted to this tragedy with a voluntary wide-scale product recall, and an in-depth investigation. Even though J&J knew this was not their fault or liability, they didn’t wait- they pulled the product themselves (about 31 million bottles and a loss of more than $100 million dollars: Lazare, Chicago Sun-Times 2002).

Mitchell Lean, the Public Relations Journal wrote in March of 1983 that “In a program perhaps unequaled by any other company, J&J capitalized on the fact that the tragedy was not of its making, and was able to generate and enormous degree of customer and employee support.”

And by keeping the press informed every step of the way and using an actual doctor as the spokesperson, J&J was taking in order to remove the laced product from the shelves and restock it with un-laced product, allowed the public to stay informed via mass media as to what actions were being taken in order to resolve this crisis. Ultimately, Tylenol recovered from this crisis and is now stronger than ever. J&J will need to continue executing great PR tactics if the case should be resurrected with this new evidence.