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Crisis Communications Legend Lawrence Foster Dead at 88

Source: Dick Jones CommunicationsYou may not know the name or the face but you definitely know the story about the infamous Tylenol crisis of the late 1980s.

In short, seven people died as a result of cyanide-laced Tylenol pills, including a 12-year-old girl. Mass hysteria ensued and the parent company of Tylenol was practically rescued by one man — Lawrence Foster, corporate vice president of public relations for Johnson & Johnson (J&J).

He died last night at the age of 88, according to a release sent to Mediabistro and PRNewser.

A Penn State alumnus, Foster’s rapid and concise response to the national tragedy has served as a case study for Crisis Communications 101 since 1986, and will be into perpetuity.

Although a couple of people were suspected of this heinous crime (including Ted Kaczynski), no one has been formally charged. Regardless, Foster knew quick action and immediate response was the key to saving J&J from public scrutiny and private bankruptcy.

How to deal with this in front of America without destroying the reputation of the company? Three ways:

  1. Immediate product recall (31 million bottles equaling $100 million). 
  2. Cease all corporate advertising
  3. Reintroduction of the company’s top product slowly to ensure grace under fire

Although J&J was not responsible for the tampering, they assumed responsibility under Foster’s direction. He led a campaign that stated public safety first and recalled all of their capsules from the market in 1986. All Tylenol capsules were removed form the market and radio silence was instilled until this scare was eradicated.

You know those pesky child-proof caps and “tamper resistant packaging” seen on any over-the-counter medicine? That was Foster’s brainchild. J&J was the first company to promote “caplets”, which were also resistant to tampering. That is a nice move, but people still had to buy the product. How? Coupons and brand ambassadors through public speaking.

It was swift, detailed and very successful. And that was all because of Foster’s leadership.

A funeral mass will be held 10:00 a.m., Monday, Oct. 21, at The Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity, 315 1st St., Westfield, NJ. Burial will be private. In lieu of flowers contributions would be appreciated to the Central PA Food Bank, 3908 Corey Road, Harrisburg, PA 17109, or the charity of your choosing.

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