One of our dogs died. Freddie, our white, grumpy old basset, with a heart of gold, has  become extinct. What a sad day, week and rest of the year if not more. Before you think I’m writing his obituary, rest assured that there is reason in the sadness. What really got  us was the fact that it was COMPLETELY left field and out of the blue. We didn’t see it coming. We took him to the vet, expecting him to be back the next day…and then he wasn’t. There was no preparation. No strategy. No plan. Just shock of him being gone.

In my deep sorrow I realised, things are SO much worse when you are unprepared. Of course you can’t plan your life or business to death (as I mentioned in “Living Strategy”), but if you just had some kind of rough idea, what you would do if any kind of crises hit, you might find that you deal with it differently. This made me wonder, how many companies actually have a plan for when the unthinkable happens? A rumor, production mishap, bad behavior of the company’s leader, all those kinds of things that become front page news; what THEN?

Do YOU as the communication specialist have a plan for YOUR clients? Have you thought about the steps that YOU as an agency would take to try and assist your client in dark and dire times? Every situation is different so obviously you won’t have the detail BUT you can surely have a skeleton in place that will be filled in rather quickly with the details once disaster strikes.

This might be a seriously old example, yet 25 years later business schools like Harvard  STILL use it as best practice. In 1982 six people died in Chicago after taking Tylenol tylenolExtra Strength tablets that was laced with cyanide. What a catastrophe! Think about it within your situation? What would you do if people DIED from YOUR product!?

What makes this story so remarkable is that Johnson & Johnson did the total opposite of what one would expect of a big company. They went against their legal counsel’s advise of not pulling the product at all and pulled every single Tylenol product across America. Why? Because they went back to what they stood for: their company values and credo that said (this is me paraphrasing) “we are responsible to anyone who uses our products”. That became the basis of their strategy. johnson-and-johnsons-social-responsibility-translated-to-digital-world-3-728THEY were responsible. THEY had to fix it and before they could guarantee that it will not happen again, they could not have product on the shelf. What a bold step! They lost more than 30% market share in an instant, but as Alan Hilburg, one of the Johnson & Johnson team members during the crises said, “it’s always the right time to do what’s right”. WOW! What an approach! Simply knowing who you are, what you stand for or what you’re fighting for, is the first step in creating guidelines for your plan.

The next step is honesty. Johnson & Johnson didn’t try to hide the unfortunate incident. They took action immediately, they were honest and transparent about the tragedy and they were empathetic towards their consumers. These steps taken are so much more than just a coincidence. It was another step in the bigger picture. Think about the competitors. All of a sudden more than 30% market share was up for grabs! The competitors were surely licking their lips at the potential gain THEY could get out of Johnson & Johnson misfortunes. PLUS let’s be honest, how do you come back after your product actually killed people? That’s what I would have thought anyway.

You approach it in the Johnson & Johnson way: with a long-term view. First you realise deborah-tindle-13that you’ve lost people’s trust and then ask yourself “how can we make people trust us again after we let them down so badly?”.

Johnson & Johnson approach was to investigate the possible ways in which the tablets could have gotten contaminated and make a plan to fix it. This investigation led to brand spanking new packaging that was tamper-proof. No one would be able to meddle with their tablets ever again! That of course became the focus of the new ad campaign. Why? Because it became the proof point that you CAN trust Tylenol. They’ve done a complete packaging redesign, not because it had to look pretty, but because they wanted to make their consumers feel safe. Within 90 days they had 46% market share.

WOW! What a comeback! So let’s learn from the best.

1. Have clear values, a mission statement or even better a manifesto that becomes your guiding-light, especially during the dark times.

2. If disaster strikes, take ACTION, whether it is to have an immediate press conference or pulling the product, do something IMMEDIATELY.

3. Be honest and open about the disaster. Do NOT pass the buck. Take ownership.

4. Have empathy with your consumers. Apologies IF you mean it and intend on doing something to fix it. Otherwise don’t bother as actions speak louder than words.

5. Rebuild the consumers trust by fixing the problem in a consumer-centric way. Don’t hide behind your ‘brand equity’ or ‘we ARE a trusted brand’. In today’s times, you have to EARN that over and over again, especially after something annihilates that ‘trust’ feeling. Ask yourself the question: what would make my consumers trust me again?

Even in the darkest times, something useful can be learned. Even in the death of my dear, beloved Freddie.



Note 1: Info from the following links 1, 2, 3

Note 2: All images courtesy of Google Images