Thursday, August 19, 2010

Not Getting The Cart Before The Horse

Johnson & Johnson, the giant health care company, known for Tylenol, Motrin, St. Joseph Aspirin and Band-Aids, appears to be headed in the right direction with its low-key appointment of Vice President Ajit Shetty to a newly created job overseeing company wide quality, manufacturing and compliance issues.

J & J is apparently also appointing chief quality officers for all three of its major business units, pharmaceuticals, consumer products and medical devices.

In the past year, J & J has had eight recalls, involving millions of bottles of Tylenol, Motrin, aspirin, Benadryl, Rolaids and Simply Sleep pills.

The recalls were triggered by bacterial contamination, a terrible smell on containers, and fears that some of their liquid medicines might contain metal shavings.

So often, when a big company faces a business crisis, one of the first reactions is to throw a public relations campaign at consumers.

We, at the Institute for Crisis Management, usually counsel a client to explain what went wrong and to communicate how sorry they are that they let their customers and investors down. Then, set out to "fix" the problem or problems, before launching a communication strategy to explain what they are doing about it.

J & J seems to be going about "the fix" in the right order. Correct the problems and talk about it after you have something to talk about.

A plant in Washington, PA and another in Las Piedras, Puerto Rico were sources of some of the problems that led to the recalls. The Pennsylvania plant was shut down in April and it has been reported it will not reopen until it is cleaned up and improved.

When Associated Press reporter Tom Murphy ask J & J for details, company spokesman Bill Price simply said the appointment of the quality control officers is part of a "more comprehensive remediation plan."

I would expect (and hope) that in the near future, the company will begin to communicate with key audiences -- including employees, investors and customers -- more details about the actions that have been and will be taken to improve quality and reassure those key stakeholders that J & J can be trusted to provide a good place to work, quality health care products for families, and a good investment for shareholders.

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