Whether you take Johnson & Johnson CEO William Weldon’s public mea culpa over the recent spate of drug recalls at face value or with a cynical grain of salt, the event highlights several important points in brand image damage control.


Johnson & Johnson is no stranger to corporate crisis management and large scale product recalls. The 1982 “Tylenol Scare” involving the deaths of seven individuals after they took some Extra Strength Tylenol that had been laced with cyanide, resulted in a well executed nation-wide recall. Within a week, the company pulled some 31 million bottles of capsules from the shelves. The whole incident is regarded as a case study in corporate crisis management till this day.

While the current product recalls may lack the luster and consumer approval that characterized the former incident, it nonetheless offers many powerful lessons that small business owners should keep in mind should crisis strike their own companies. Here are three of the most important points:

1. Work quickly to contain the situation. In the age of social media, where news and word-of-mouth ideas spread like wildfire, it is this all the more important to act quickly to quell consumer rage or disapproval. This means quickly getting a statement out to your customers, keeping tabs on social media sites and blogs for negative comments and making it a point to offer a response, and finally being available to offer pertinent information and assistance and answer customer questions. While J&J may have been slow to react at the beginning of the recalls, they did get some things right. (See J&J’s dedicated website).

2. Don’t be afraid to admit wrong doing. Though your first impulse may be to try to cover up a potentially slanderous event. News of your attempted cover up may only backfire and further fan the flames of negative press. Publicly admitting a mistake actually may go a long way towards rebuilding consumer trust and brand loyalty.

3. Present a plan to right past wrongs. In conjunction with the previous two points, presenting a clear and detailed plan of action to prevent future mishaps and then acting on that plan in a timely manner, shows consumers that the company is taking the issue seriously and is making a real effort to improve. Though J&J may have put out such a plan, much skepticism exists as to its efficacy.

In short, a business’ relationship with its customers is just like any other. Mistakes don’t have to be a relationship-breaker, but only if he offending party knows how to handle them properly.

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