|May 23, 2010|
|Tylenol is PR 'Watergate'; APR 'Foxes' vs. 'Chickens'|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|The tornado of lies and spin that is J&J/Tylenol is sweeping up not only J&J itself but the slavish media that perpetuate the myths.|
Also victims are the PR and press associations whose phony codes are not being followed in this case.
On another note, the admirable initiative by the Committee for a Democratic PRSA to oust APR control of the Society is doomed unless it can get the board to put itself into ethical receivership.
The non-APRs cannot get fair treatment from the all-APR board and the Assembly that was 72% APRs in 2009.
The $100K meeting of 110 chapter presidents-elect in New York June 4-5 should do partial duty as an Assembly that would remove the unfair APR requirement for office and allow any member to run this summer.
Two-thirds of delegates are needed for a quorum or about 200 votes. Already present are nearly 110 and another 90 votes could be obtained via proxies which were made legal at the last Assembly.
There’s no excuse not to have an Assembly June 4-5 except continued opposition to bringing democracy to the Society.
Tylenol Tall Tales Need Toppling
Johnson & Johnson is up to its ears in product recalls these days resulting in a public apology by CEO Bill Weldon.
Almost every story about the recalls mentions what a wonderful job J&J did with Tylenol after the 1982 murders.
Such characterizations are false. There is nothing wonderful about the subsequent murder of 23-year-old Diane Elsroth in 1986 via poisoned Tylenols.
Easily-spiked capsules should never have been mass marketed in the first place and definitely not after seven people were killed with them.
J&J brought them back to market knowing the killer was still at large and with many indications that the Tylenols were poisoned within J&J itself. That is the claim of former employee Scott Bartz who knows a lot about the distributional practices of the company.
Several PR professors have written that the five-day delay in pulling Tylenol capsules from the market should never be referred to as “immediate” or “instant,” and that there is no way of knowing how much the profit motive figured in J&J’s decision to re-market the capsules.
The profs, quoted in the online PR Journal of PRSA hosted by Prof. Don Wright, also focus on the rarely mentioned $100K reward that J&J offered in both the 1982 and 1986 murders. They write that this small sum was J&J’s way of claiming it had nothing to do with the murders.
Among other interesting statements to be brought out in a book by Bartz this summer called “The Tylenol Mafia,” is that Arthur Hull Hayes Jr., FDA Commissioner in 1982, left the FDA in 1983 and signed a ten-year $1,000 per-month contract with Burson-Marsteller, PR firm for Tylenol.
Records dug up by Bartz show that Hayes then became vice chairman and medical director of Nelson Communications, founded in 1987 by former J&J executive Wayne Nelson. The company got 39% of its $86 million in revenues from J&J in 1996. Nelson headed McNeil Consumer Products Co., created to market Tylenol in capsules.
J&J’s claim of lack of responsibility is a legal stance and not one that plays in the court of public opinion.
We have e-mailed media that reflexively sing the praises of J&J and are having little luck in getting any of them to change their minds.
Media Reject Tylenol Corrections (So Far)
The Economist, which said April 10 that J&J/Tylenol is the "gold standard of crisis management," blew us off. That remark was in a column called “Schumpeter” written by Adrian Woolridge.
Business editor Edward McBride said that “In the context of Toyota’s recent failings, or Tiger Woods’ infidelities, or any of the other episodes referred to in the article, J&J’s decision to recall Tylenol was very prompt—although the firm may well have made subsequent mistakes.
“It also seems unfair to say that such easily spiked capsules should never have been marketed. To this day, supermarkets and drug stores across America and around the world remain full of products that could easily be tampered with.”
New York Times reporter Natasha Singer has been unreachable for two weeks. She praised J&J on May 3 for its “fast and adept” handling of the Tylenol murders in 1982.
The Christian Science Monitor, which said Jan. 15 that what J&J did in 1982 “is still regarded as a shining example of corporate social responsibility,” said it will look at the matter more closely.
“The Motley Fool (fool.com),” which on May 6 said that J&J “has always been the poster child for how to handle a crisis,” was sent one of our columns debunking the Tylenol myths.
Fortune magazine, which on May 28, 2007 hailed J&J/Tylenol as the “gold standard in crisis control,” was sent a column via a general Fortune mailbox. The writer was Jia Lynn Yant but there is no way of contacting an individual Fortune reporter via e-mail or phone.
wikipedia.com, which says J&J’s “quick response” in 1982 “has become the gold standard for corporate crisis management,” was sent a column.
Tactics of PRSA, which praised J&J in a full page in 2007 for providing “an enduring example of crisis management done right,” was also sent a column. Tactics editors should read the Society’s PR Journal.
James Lukaszewski, crisis expert for the Society, said in an e-mail to us last week that “The 1982 Tylenol incident remains the most internationally recognized successful crisis incident response, even after all these years.”
U of F Flunks Us
The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications was contacted because a posting on its website called “Effective Crisis Management” says J&J “conducted an immediate product recall,” “knew they were not responsible for tampering of the product,” and put “public safety first.”
We asked College Dean John Wright, Ph.D., to correct these false or at least debatable statements. http://www.jou.ufl.edu/about/dean.asp
Replying was David Carlson, executive director, Center for Media Innovation and Research at the College, http://www.jou.ufl.edu/faculty/facultydetail.asp?id=dcarlson who said we offered “nothing but opinion.” He said the piece was by a student who quoted the Chicago Sun-Times, J&J, and Mark Mitchell of Economic Assn. Int’l, and the piece will be changed when those organizations change their opinions.
Chapters Asked to Conduct Polls
We have e-mailed 24 chapter presidents, asking them to conduct a poll of their members on the APR issue. That would be the democratic thing to do.
Several have replied but none has shown any intention of polling the members, about 80% of whom would be non-APR. We doubt any will.
Jeff Ghannam (pictured), president of the National Capital Chapter (NCC), by far the biggest with 1,400+ members, said he will bring the subject up at the board meeting May 20.
NCC, above all chapters, should practice democracy but we’re not hopeful.
Thirteen of the 14 NCC Assembly delegates are APR when only three should be to reflect the proportion of APR members.
The Edelman/Stevens/Rickey Committee for a Democratic PRSA hopes to obtain 1,000 signatures but that would only be 5% of the membership and would be dismissed by leaders. The only votes that count are those of the delegates.
A lot of political legwork in the chapters is needed to oust the APRs.
Yann Charges Copyright Violation
Art Yann, VP-PR of the Society, last week charged this website with copyright violation because it linked to a video that was on the Society website.
We replied that we linked to the Society’s posting on YouTube and therefore there was no violation.
We found irony in Yann’s complaint of copyright violation in this one instance since the Society sold at least 50,000 copies of O’Dwyer articles without our permission until we exposed this practice in 1994.
Eleven info packets of the Society were purchased in 1994 and 52 O’Dwyer articles totaling 90 pages or 4.72 articles per packet were found. Since packet volume was 3,800 yearly that meant about 17,900 O’Dwyer articles were being sold yearly in packets priced up to $55 each.
Our articles were by far the most copied, second place going to PR Quarterly (19 articles with 50 pages in the 11 packets).
Yann keeps taunting us as to why we and 12 other authors who formed a committee did not file a lawsuit.
He says we should use the word "alleged," noting that an accused person or organization is innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
That is correct but it is only relevant once a case hits court.
There is no question that the PR Society sold hundreds of thousands of copies of authors’ works without their permission. We have boxes of the copied materials.
The authors, including PR Professors Tom Bivins, Bill Brody and Dan Lattimore, were told they faced not only the cost of suing PRSA but would have to defend against defamation and other charges that would be brought against them personally. A legal gambit called “motion practice” could be used on them—the filing of scores or even hundreds of briefs and motions, all of which have to be answered and at great cost.
Furthermore, they would be spending their own after-tax income while PRSA had almost unlimited tax-free funds at its disposal.
The professors and other authors also faced making trips to New York for depositions and a trial which might not sit well with their employers. Professors already have a heavy schedule.
The fact that legal relief was not obtained against the Society does not mean it did not improperly sell works of the authors or that it does not owe them compensation for doing that.
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