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Where there's a crisis, there's PR

Where there's a crisis, there's PR

By Stephanie Tillman, Intern

I find myself interested in the topic of one of the most famous PR case studies– the Tylenol poisoning case from 1982. This was the case where seven people living in the Chicago area, with no relation to each other, separately took Tylenol and inexplicably died. After much investigation, it was discovered that the capsules they took were laced with cyanide. It was a terrible crime, which Tylenol and many others, learned a lesson from. This incident is extremely significant in PR as it is often referenced as a great example of the right way to clean up a PR mess.

So what does a company do in this type of crisis? That, to me, is mind-boggling. With no notice of what is ahead or what type of emergency there is, even with a crisis communication plan in place, the trained PR practitioner can still have major troubles trying to maintain a company’s image.

With no leads as to who may have committed this horrific crime and the need to do something about it fast, Johnson & Johnson (the makers of Tylenol) acted as fast as they could. They quickly began recalling every bottle of Tylenol and stopping all advertisements for the product. Johnson & Johnson continued informing the public on the recalls and steps they were taking as a company trying to maintain consumer safety.  An article by Jerry Knight in the Washington Post from the time of the poisonings stated,

“Johnson & Johnson has effectively demonstrated how a major business ought to handle a disaster. This is no Three Mile Island accident in which the company’s response did more damage than the original incident. What Johnson & Johnson executives have done is communicate the message that the company is candid, contrite, and compassionate, committed to solving the murders and protecting the public.” (Read more.)

I believe honesty is key when it comes to handling a PR crisis or just when practicing PR in general. Today companies like Apple and Toyota are struggling to save their image because they were not honest to begin with. It’s like telling a little white-lie that turns into a giant lie and you can’t take it back. Public Relations is not just about showing a company in its best light; it is knowing how to handle any situation ethically and with humility. It may be something minuscule, some chaos that could end a business or even when there’s no crisis at all. In the end, truthful PR seems to be the best PR.

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