The prescription for Komen’s headache: Tylenol.


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The Susan G. Komen/Planned Parenthood debacle of the past few weeks has been painful to watch. Forget the politics, the pushback and the apologies. What has been excruciating to witness has been Komen’s struggle to be transparent.

Not to unduly pick on Komen. The past couple of years, we’ve been witness to more than a few examples of companies who had their “oops” moment and muffed their chance to be totally forthcoming. The Toyota Prius and its acceleration issues, BP’s response to the Gulf oil spill and Netflix’s tough-to-swallow price increase also immediately come to mind.

tylenol package

What these marketers all failed to do was to honor the age –old and much-proven way to deal with a public relations crisis. Lay it all out there. Take your lumps. Move on.

In the event of a media firestorm, you should want to be the go-to place the press, your partners, your customers and others look to get their information. But in order to do that, you have to be 100% transparent. You can’t cherry pick what gets shared, no matter how pure your intentions. No corporate spin, and no hiding behind lawyer-approved press releases.

Don’t hold anything back (even things you might consider irrelevant to the situation at hand), or continue to perpetuate spin with the ill-conceived idea that in the end you’ll look good. You won’t. You’ll look like you’re covering something up. And the public starts thinking, “If they’re not telling me the whole story on this, what else are they holding back on me?” Trust starts evaporating.

And “trust,” my friends, is what customer relations is all about.

A company that wrote the book on how to handle a brand crisis is Johnson & Johnson. When the company’s flagship pain reliever, Tylenol, was suspected of causing seven deaths in the Chicago area in 1982, many thought the brand was finished. When it was confirmed that a limited number of Tylenol bottles had been tampered with and laced with cyanide in the Chicago area, Johnson & Johnson didn’t try to minimize the problem by attempting to “localize” it. Understanding that the very trust of its customers was at stake, Johnson & Johnson CEO James Burke ordered recall of more than 31 million bottles nationwide. The company then halted production of capsules (which are easier to tamper with) in favor of pills and caplets. Then the company invested millions in tamper-proof packaging, that has since become the standard for the industry.

Burke’s openness and his proactive steps to re-build customer trust resulted in the Tylenol brand not just surviving, but also growing over the next few years.

The lesson here is that any corporate misstep isn’t as big as YOU think it is, it’s as big as YOUR CUSTOMERS and the media think it is. That’s especially important to remember in these days of social media where information flies freely and attitudes can change at a head-snapping pace.

And the question that needs to be asked is, what’s it going to take to restore trust?

Posted by Mickey

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


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