Anyone who studies the public relations aspect of how to handle bad press is likely to read about the 1982 Johnson & Johnson fiasco regarding its Tylenol product. Several bottles were contaminated with deadly poison, and the media jumped on the story so swiftly and completely that Johnson & Johnson faced a PR crisis the likes of which no major company experienced before. The ways in which Johnson & Johnson handled the bad press taught other businesses what to do when a crisis occurs, methods that businesses are still implementing almost 30 years later.
Determine who is to receive your message. You may have to communicate on a national level that includes the public, or you may only need to target specific groups, such as the parents of a certain school.
Express your regret concerning the crisis. The Tylenol crisis, for example, was not Johnson & Johnson’s fault; the company fell victim to terrorism. However, the first thing Johnson & Johnson did was to pull Tylenol off the shelves rather than blaming the terrorist. People do not want to see a company pointing fingers during a crisis. They want to be confident the company understands what is at stake, apologizes for the disaster, and takes action before being forced to do so by legal means.
Explain to the public what your company’s plans are. During a crisis, your company is going to get bad press, and it may seem as if the world (or your world) hates you. Rather than becoming defensive and blaming anyone, clearly define the problem to the public and let them know how you plan to rectify the damage.
Plan a structure to disseminate your message to the media. Send your media press releases out all at once, and if the releases will be ongoing, send them out at the same time every day. Post your message on social media during times when your audience is most likely to see it.
Stay on message by stressing character, regret, concern, responsibility and responsiveness. Media expert Craig Reiss wrote in “Entrepreneur” magazine that CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, resigned after he bungled a press conference regarding the 2010 oil spill. Instead of sticking to his company’s message, Hayward became emotional by telling the public he wanted the crisis resolved because he wanted his old life back, demonstrating that he believed the was the victim in this crisis. He veered from the qualities of a successful message.
Show restitution. If your company caused damage to people, pay them back. For example, when Jet Blue held its passengers hostage on one of its airplanes during a New York ice storm, it later offered a free ticket to the affected passengers.