Crisis communication is an area of public relations that I find really fascinating. I enjoy learning about the proper steps that a professional takes when a company is pitted against a major crisis, and what they do in the face of chaos to turn the situation around and use the crisis in their own favor. One case study that exemplifies the degree to which a crisis can be managed effectively and a company can gain more respect by doing so is the case of the Chicago Tylenol Murders in 1982.
The tragic deaths of seven people who died due to potassium cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules started as a disaster for Tylenol producer Johnson and Johnson. However, J&J communicated with their publics and the media proficiently, investigated their products after pulling millions of dollars of Tylenol capsules of the shelves across the nation, and developed proper packaging to avoid further mishaps. I believe that the way that Johnson and Johnson handled the situation should be epitomized as an example for businesses to use when they are faced with a crisis, and how to manage it well.
A 12-year-old girl named Mary Kellerman was the first victim of the Tylenol Murders. Kellerman, who lived in Chicago suburb Elk Grove Village was not feeling well on September 29, 1982. She was given an extra-strength Tylenol capsule to relieve a sore-throat, and her parents later found her unconscious. Kellerman died on the way to the hospital, and it was assumed that she had died of a stroke. However, three similar deaths soon followed. The same day as Kellerman’s death, 27-year-old Adam Janus of Arlington Heights was hurried to a local hospital where he died, suspected of a major heart-attack. The connection between Kellerman and Janus’ deaths were that both had ingested dangerous Tylenol capsules hours before.
“That night Adam’s family returns to his home to discuss his funeral arrangements,” where Janus’ 19-year-old fiancé Teresa and his 25-year-old brother Stanley Angus took the deadly medications. Unsuccessful attempts were made to save them, but both died within a few days (Rowe.)
While it was suspected that these deaths were suspiciously connected in some way, it was questionable as to how they were connected. However, it was noticed by two firefighters monitoring calls that both families had announced that the victims had ingested Tylenol prior to collapsing. The firefighters, Phillip Cappitelli and Richard Keyworth “call[ed] the coroner who confirms capsules of Tylenol obtained from both victim homes and finds 65 milligrams of cyanide in some of them” (Rowe.)
When J&J realized that their Tylenol capsules caused the deaths of four Chicagoans, they immediately initiated a recall of all Tylenol products, and spread the news by any means possible. Cars with sirens and loudspeakers drove through the city and suburbs of Chicago, urging residents to throw away any Tylenol capsules they might have. Schools were contacted, and they instructed students to bring...