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In 1982, seven people died in the Chicago metro- politan area after ingesting Extra Strength Tylenol that had been deliberately contaminated with potas- sium cyanide. Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer, responded by pulling 31 million bottles of tablets back from retailers, stopped all production and advertising of the product, got involved with the Chicago Police, FBI, and FDA in the search for the killer, and offered up to a $100,000 reward for information on the culprit, all while permanently discontinuing the capsules and developing tamper-resistant “gel caps.”

The crisis cost the company more than $100 million, but Tylenol eventually regained 100 percent of the mar- ket share it had before the crisis. The media appreciated the lengths the company went to and its concern for the public interest, so the company was portrayed generally in a good light. This is a textbook example of how to respond to a public relations crisis. Unfortunately, many in higher education have yet to learn from this case.


This work was originally published in The Edwardsville Intelligencer.



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