J&J’s Headache

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    For many years Johnson & Johnson was known for one of the most successful crisis management campaigns in history, the 1982 Tylenol recall. Its superb handling of this difficult incident served to cement its reputation among consumers as a trustworthy brand until recently when a series of clashes with the FDA turned public opinion upside down. CNN Money reports:

    Since September 2009, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the J&J division that makes over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, has announced eight recalls, including one for an estimated 136 million bottles of children’s Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl, and Zyrtec — the biggest children’s drug recall of all time — that were potentially contaminated with dark particles. J&J has been excoriated by the Food and Drug Administration for failing to catch McNeil’s quality problems. In April the agency slapped McNeil’s plant in Fort Washington, Pa., with a scalding inspection report, causing the company to shutter the factory until 2011.

    Perhaps most disturbing, in 2009 contractors hired by J&J carried out a scheme to secretly recall damaged Motrin by going store by store and quietly buying every packet, according to the FDA. That raised the prospect that J&J not only was making shoddy products — but was trying to keep the trouble out of public view.

    Even as I was posting this blog entry, I heard radio news that J&J is now recalling thousand of defective hip replacement devices. What’s happened to their quality control?

    J&J may have thought it was out of the fire when the furor over its recall of children’s medications died down, but it appears that its headaches are far from over. By following a recurring pattern of severe lapses in honestly and transparency, the once-revered manufacturer is destroying its own reputation.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. , an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training.]