The crisis was one the best managed case in history: Johnson & Johnson reacted by notifying health and government officials immediately, and then they put out a recall for all capsules in the Chicago area. No distinction was made for lots or size. They simply recalled all product that was in capsule form. Because there was no crisis management plan in place, the management simply reacted according to the company’s code of ethics, which had been written in the mid-1940’s by Robert Wood Johnson, company head for the more than fifty years. The reported the problem to authorities and then issued warnings via the media, and cooperated completely with all media reporters. They also stopped production of all Tylenol products until the source of the contamination could be identified.
Johnson & Johnson also used the media, both PR and paid advertising to communicate their strategy during the crisis. Johnson & Johnson used the media to issue a national alert to tell the public not to use the Tylenol product. In the first week of the crisis Johnson & Johnson established a 1-800 hot line for consumers to call. Johnson & Johnson had not previously made much use of the media, but they saw the benefits during this crisis, and it paid them back handsomely to include the media.
At that time, the most pressing problems were how to handle the crisis. The cases of poisoning were scattered across Chicago and the contaminated bottles had come from different processing plants, so it was not possible to pinpoint the source right away, nor could they confine the public reaction to any certain geographical locations. Johnson & Johnson had to make certain that all bottles of possibly poisoned Tylenol were taken out of circulation, regardless of the cost or the impact on company stock. This would prevent further deaths. Johnson & Johnson elected to make this recall very public and nationwide so as to be certain no one else was hurt. All capsules could be exchanged for tablets nationwide.
The first and last paragraphs of the credo stating their primary responsibilities to doctors, patients and the communities required this reaction, since the credo requires that the company protect its customers. By using their written code of ethics to guide their actions, the company executive decided that the safety of customers had to come first. They then put together a plan to recoup their losses and also those of their partners, suppliers and distributors. By reacting rapidly to protect the public, Tylenol protected their reputation as a company of integrity and the public saw them as co-victims. Johnson & Johnson issued coupons for free bottles of new product sporting a brand new tamper-proof closure on the bottle of newly manufactured gel-caps, which were, essentially, tamper-proof they earned back their business and more.