Business Litigation Alert: "The Blue Bell Recall - How to Effectively Handle a Very Public Crisis"

Since the beginning of April, Blue Bell has been making headlines, and not for a new flavor of ice cream.  The Texas-based ice cream giant decided to recall all products from store shelves following a listeria outbreak.

The manner in which a company handles a crisis – be it with a malfunctioning product, a health contamination scare, or an adverse legal ruling – largely determines whether the company will be able to regain the trust of those with whom it does business  – both clients and third-party vendors.  Many companies have never been able to regain that trust and recover from a crisis, but others serve as outstanding examples of how to effectively navigate a crisis situation.  

One of the best examples of effective crisis management is still the way Johnson & Johnson handled the Tylenol crisis of 1982, in which cyanide laced Tylenol led to the deaths of several people in the Chicago area.  This could have been devastating to Johnson & Johnson, and while it did experience some initial negative effects, the company’s actions led to a positive outcome long-term.

So what can today’s businesses learn from J&J?

1.       Quick Action to Control the Crisis – J&J issued an immediate national recall of all Tylenol products.  This meant recalling $100 million worth of product, but it was a move that was essential in containing the problem quickly.

2.       Control the Message – The company was able to utilize the media to warn consumers not to consume any product containing acetaminophen and doctors and hospitals not to distribute the products.  Because Johnson & Johnson communicated quickly and was perceived as being up front about the issue, it was able to control the message to consumers.

3.       Action Post-Crisis – J&J did not stop once the problem was resolved.  It also offered an exchange of any Tylenol products once they were deemed safe and implemented safety features such as triple sealed capsules. Those actions post-crisis went a long way towards creating a positive impression that helped the company regain consumer trust.

The takeaway here is that a business must act quickly to bring a “crisis” under control.  It must also utilize the media to stay in communication with its customers and clients, and continue its efforts post-crisis in order to prevent future problems.

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