Tag Archives: Johnson & Johnson
I believe in second chances. That’s why Rocky gets to come back. Why playoffs have a wild card. And why it isn’t over until the fat lady sings. Last January, we published a list of reputations to watch – the companies whose reputations were at a crossroads, and whose actions in 2012 would dictate their future. Some, like J&J and Target, seem to be muddling along – they haven’t permanently shot themselves in the foot, but the absence of a major negative issue is hardly a ringing endorsement for reputation rehabilitation. Same for Sears, whose acquisition of Kmart still seems like a big mistake.
This year’s biggest missed opportunities:
HP – There is nothing like a new leadership regime to give a company and its reputation a fresh start. And after the Mark Hurd debacle, and the entry of Meg Whitman, I was rooting for HP. But two major post-acquisition write downs and lots of finger pointing have done little to restore HP’s reputation mojo.
Facebook – Last year saw Zuckerberg punching back after a nasty movie portrayal with a massive philanthropic donation to Newark public schools. With its reputation at a crossroads, Facbook IPOed, with well-documented and disastrous results. Still relevant because they are prolific, but not on many “Most Admired” lists, and that is too bad.
North Korea – was on our reputations to watch list last year, because the election of a new leader might have been the start of a new era for the nation as a participant in the free world. And while Kim Jong Un is meeting with Google’s Eric Schmidt, most believe that is about appearances, not really change. It isn’t good when your finest moment as a world leader is being parodied by The Onion as the Sexiest Man Alive, and having China fall for it.
Sesame Street – An unfortunate sex scandal for Elmo changed the trajectory after Mitt Romney’s Big Bird comments gave American’s favorite neighborhood a boost in relevance.
Reputations to Watch in 2012
January 2, 2012
- Tim Tebow – College and professional sports have had a rough year, and we are looking for some new heroes. Enter Tim Tebow – athletic uber-achiever, seemingly authentic advocate for faith, Tim Tebow has the stuff that heroes are made of…so much so that he was voted the most desirable celebrity neighbor in a recent poll. Is this sustainable? Or is he a one hit wonder?
- President Obama – this one is self explanatory – people don’t think of our President as the CEO, but he is the CEO of America, Inc. As Washington’s gridlock continues and the Republican nominees become more of a known quantity, will President Obama be the reputation winner?
- Target – still a beloved brand for its budget-chic sensibility, Target is a reputation at a crossroads. Last year brought negative attention for support of anti LGBT candidates to the red bulls eye, and a series of workplace issues threatens the store where the First Lady loves to shop.
- Johnson & Johnson – The iconic trusted “baby company” is taking a lot of punches due to a series of recalls. How long before that reputation goodwill bank runs out?
- Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook – The young billionaire took a few punches with release of The Social Network, punched back with a mega-donation to the Newark Schools. If Facebook IPOs in 2012, all eyes will be on this company.
- London and the 2012 Olympic Committee – an event of this magnitude is a make or break proposition. But no pressure…
- Sears & Kmart – my personal view is that the Kmart acquisition gave Sears a big black eye. After weak holiday sales, they announced this week that they are shutting stores.
- North Korea and Kim Jong Un – will a new supreme leader change the nation’s reputation, and its economy?
- Meg Whitman and HP – distractions in leadership and strategy shifts put HP on the reputation roller coaster at a time when it was still reeling from the scandalous resignation of Mark Hurd. Whitman seems to be bringing focus back to HP – and this may be the year they get their reputation mojo back.
- Warren Buffet – 2010 was the year of asking billionaire’s to give away their wealth. 2011 brought the Buffet “tax me please” message to Washington. What will the Oracle of Omaha do in 2012?
The Oracle of Omaha Redux
May 2, 2011
What a difference a month makes. Last month Warren Buffett was praising David Sokol, his erstwhile successor who made a hasty departure amid the scent of an insider trading scandal, as a great guy whose purchase of Lubrizol shares prior to the Oracle of Omaha buying the Company “were not in any way unlawful.” At this weekend’s Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, normally a lovefest for 40,000 Buffett shareholders and devotees, the Oracle used words like “inexplicable”, “inexcusable” and “very damning evidence” to describe Sokol and what now looks like share purchases that will end with a perp walk.
Buffett is legendary for his investment acumen and vigilance regarding his and his firm’s reputation. After a month in the media spotlight regarding the Sokol/Lubrizol affair where questions swirled about what the Oracle knew and when he knew it, whether he was just getting too old and was off his game, or whether he was just a hypocrite when it came to Sokol, Buffett came clean and admitted that he “obviously made a big mistake.” Time will tell whether Buffett’s reputation took a hit. He has built up considerable good will over the years and the Sokol fiasco as well as the big hit to Berkshire Hathaway profits in the first quarter as a result of insurance losses will likely not do lasting damage to the man or his company’s reputation.
The Sokol/Lubrizol affair is just the latest example of the response to a crisis situation creating seemingly more problems for a company and its executives than the crisis itself (think Toyota, BP, Goldman Sachs and Johnson & Johnson). Crisis communications 101 teaches that you take control of the message quickly, be transparent, only release information on what you know and never speculate. From the start, Berkshire Hathaway dropped the ball, whether due to Buffett’s loyalty to a key member of his team or just not knowing the facts. The media jumped all over the issue and for a month reveled in discussing the seamy details and timeline of events, repeating Buffett’s reputation mantra and highlighting the ode to Sokol in the company’s press release.
Now, a few weeks late, Buffett has held forth on the issue and provided a mea culpa. Charlie Munger, Buffett’s right hand man summed it all up nicely at the annual meeting in typical Berkshire Hathaway understatement when he admitted that it “wasn’t the most clever press release in the world.” It also wasn’t the most clever way to respond to a crisis and that should be the lesson for the normally very clever Oracle and the rest of us.
Last weekend, I had the privilege of guest lecturing on the new realities of crisis communications at Farleigh Dickinson University as part of their Executive Lecture series. And while I was invited there to share my experiences and talk about crisis communications in our wired, networked world, I was the one who walked away learning a lot. The students were smart, insightful and particularly intuitive about the use of social media in a crisis…something so many clients are wrestling with today. We debated some of the textbook crisis case studies, and whether those responses would have been as effective today. All in all, a pretty engaging and rewarding way to spend a Saturday morning.
But for me, the greatest perk was staying for the lecture that followed mine….Driving Alignment Through Employee Engagement, which was the topic by Johnson & Johnson’s VP of Corporate Communications, Craig Rothenberg. Unless this is your first time reading this blog, you know that employee engagement is a particular passion of mine…and Craig gave me some real food for thought. He was candid about the recalls at J&J, and the challenges recent events have created from an employee engagement standpoint, particularly as it relates to the famous J&J credo as an authentic culture driver. He talked about the downsides of decades of success, and a workforce with long tenure, when you hit bumps in the road. And he talked about engagement as a means to an end, not the end itself.
My takeaways from his advice, not just to students, but to all of us:
• Employees are talking about your company, with or without you. If you don’t participate in THEIR CONVERSATIONS, they will wonder why, and make judgments about that.
• Engaging employees isn’t about what you say; it is about what employees hear. Messaging cascades are what you say….but did employees hear your intended message?
• When you talk to employees, consider it a public statement, referencing the J&J communication to bonus eligible employees that the Company would not pay full bonuses this year. If you don’t want to read about a policy or program you are implementing at your Company in the NYT or WSJ, then you aren’t comfortable with that program…re-think it.
• Employees don’t respond to messaging. They respond to listening.
• If employees see your reputation as declining, that is a canary in the coal mine…it foreshadows reputation damage to come. Pay attention to it.
For Johnson & Johnson, the Hits Keep on Coming
January 19, 2011
For Johnson & Johnson CEO William Weldon, 2010 was, as Queen Elizabeth put it a few years back, an “annus horribilus.” The Company’s various divisions issued a seeming never ending string of recall notices from pain relievers to cold remedies to contact lens solution to antacids. J&J’s McNeil Consumer Healthcare division, makers of Tylenol, Sudafed and Benadryl captured headlines throughout the year with a series of problems at its facilities.
Through a series of public relations fumbles, belated mea culpas and operational gaffes, J&J, a consumer healthcare icon, whose 1980s Tylenol tampering response was widely seen as the crisis communication gold standard, has seen its reputation significantly tarnished and its sales plummet. Generics and store brands from CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid have never had it so good.
This track record garnered for Mr. Weldon a place next to the likes of BP’s Tony Hayward and HP’s Mark Hurd a place on list of the worst CEOs of 2010 by Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth as reported by CNBC.
Unfortunately, it appears that 2011 is starting right where 2010 left off for J&J as the company issued its latest recall of 43 million bottles of Tylenol, Sudafed, Benadryl and Sinutab manufactured at McNeil’s now infamous Fort Washington, PA plant. Using a time-worn public relations ploy, the news of the recall was released on a Friday evening prior to a long holiday weekend. Mr. Weldon, once again spoke of action plans, quality reviews and commitment to consumer safety.
For those of us in crisis communications who know all too well how reputation is tied to a company’s proactive, transparent and thoughtful response, it is sad to see what has become of J&J. The blogosphere is once again full of chatter with reminiscences of J&J’s gloried past, recollections of its expert management or previous crises and calls for executive changes long overdue.
This past weekend also brought news of another medical leave to be taken by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The issues of Apple’s history of communications or non-communications about Mr. Jobs’ illness and succession planning at the Company are fodder for another blog post. This latest episode and the quick hit to Apple’s stock price shows the close relationship between corporate and executive reputation at Apple and what may happen with the Company’s visionary leader on the sideline. Conversely, for J&J and Mr. Weldon the reputational issue may be a CEO staying too long in a position.
When Heroes Disappoint
June 1, 2010
Back in 2004, BP was celebrated by NGOs, experts in corporate social responsibility and academicians for its proactive commitment to issues related to environment and climate. For years it has been a poster-child for corporate social responsibility, even going so far as to rebrand the company in celebration of its environmental commitments. The company has been held up as a role model for its approach to human rights and fair labor standards. In short, BP has been a company to admire.
Similarly, Johnson & Johnson, the parent of McNeil Consumer Products, has a sterling reputation. Cited for its integrity and pristine track record, Johnson & Johnson (and the McNeil division) is the standard-bearer for crisis management from the days of the Tylenol tainting and subsequent recall. Truly, a company to be admired.
And yet, today, we watch these heroes struggle…with mixed emotions. We want to admire them. We want to see them as the white knights they have been at various times in their history. And yet, they let us down and have shaken our confidence, not only in them, but in ourselves. For, if our heroes can make such blunders and have their reputations bruised and bloodied, what will happen to the rest of us should an accident happen or mistake be made?
Perhaps the trick is to not be “perfect.” If you make small mistakes, are open about the small mistakes and the world watches you recover from those small mistakes, perhaps they will be more likely to believe in you when you encounter the bigger issue. Faith in the fact that you can fix your mistake, may be more important than the fact that you made the mistake at all – after all, we all make mistakes.
It requires a certain amount of bravery to be committed to transparency when mistakes are made. We tend to hope that no one notices the small mistake. But, if that small mistake shows your ability to take accountability, fix problems and recover, transparency might be just what will help you weather a future storm.
And maybe, remain a hero.
Ame Wadler can be reached at email@example.com.
January 21, 2010
Ah, the 1982 Johnson & Johnson Tylenol recall.
The model for successful crisis communications to which we all aspire; to which a generation of crisis managers and business school professors give oblation.
The New York Times thinks so, too, comparing J&J’s recent recall woes to its standard-setting recall in the year I was born. Note: Those two events are not connected. As far as I know.
Many “analysts” the NYT spoke with seem to think J&J fumbled the ball here and didn’t live up to its brand promise. One of the world’s most trusted brands failed to repeat its proven model, they say. Perhaps this is true, as evidence surfaces showing that J&J knew of complaints about some of its over-the-counter medicines many months before the FDA issued its warning and the company initiated the recall.
But such a comparison is unfair, and propped up by a faulty foundation. What this article fails to mention is that the 1982 recall came as a result of madmen lacing Tylenol with cyanide, not J&J’s negligence. It’s much easier to “do the right thing” when reasonable people can see extenuating external forces cause the crisis in question, not poor management or specious science. In the current case, it doesn’t seem the recall was caused by any such forces.
I wonder at what point, if ever, the 1982 recall will cease to be a relevant and contemporary model of crisis communication. Will advancing technology, speed of communication, social media, and fragmented news render it an obsolete case study? Or will it continue to be mythologized and live on in perpetuity?
This is the blessing for J&J: Decades after the 1982 recall, it still reaps brand benefit for a job well done. And this is the curse: It will likely never live up to the legend again.
Mike Sacks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.