Oil spill provides welcome cover – but Toyota, J&J and McDonald’s must clean up their own messes

The ugly saga of BP’s Gulf oil spill (which President Obama is comparing to the 9-11 terrorist attacks) has provided considerable cover for just about every other corporate crisis. Perhaps the most grateful people have to be fromToyota as they have happily moved from day-to-day crisis management to full-on brand-rebuilding.

But the crisis managers at Johnson & Johnson and McDonald’s should be thanking BP daily. In case you missed it, here is a quick look at two crisis events that each have plenty of potential for major negative consequences:


  • Johnson & Johnson has for decades been held up as the paragon for virtuous crisis management for its Tylenol recall in 1982. But the company has stumbled in how it has handled itsmost recent Tylenol troubles. J&J has taken a less than “the-buck-stops-here” stance, blaming its suppliers of pallets for the mysterious odors in the Tylenol packaging and capsules (okay, but from their customers’ viewpoint, if Tylenol capsules smell bad, isn’t that J&J’s problem?). J&J also has been accused of being uncooperative with Congressional investigators and the FDA. The company has been happy to ride its laurels for nearly 40 years, but it has to show it can still “walk the talk” today.
  • McDonald’s acted quickly in recalling Shrek glass tainted with toxic chemicals –but has not been forthcoming in disclosing how the carcinogenic metal found its way into the coating of the glasses. Nothing shatters customer trust like the thought of cancerous toxins around food or drinking glasses. McDonald’s needs to fully understand what happens and be able to explain how it won’t let it happen again.

The oil spill seems to be a never-ending disaster completely consuming news media attention, but Toyota, J&J and McDonald’s cannot let up in relentlessly doing the right things to fix broken processes, communicate with transparency and make things right with their customers.

- Jon Harmon

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