ARCHIVAL (NBC, TODAY SHOW, 4-10-17):MIGUEL ALMAGUER: The backlash over the ad was immediate.
NARRATION: To rebuild trust, corporations in trouble follow a familiar script.
ARCHIVAL (C-SPAN, 12-28-16):JOHN STUMPF (WELLS FARGO CHAIR AND CEO): I am deeply sorry.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, NEW DAY, 3-22-18):MARK ZUCKERBERG (FACEBOOK CEO): This was a major breach of trust.
NARRATION: One written nearly 40 years ago, when a deadly crisis gripped America.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 10-8-82):JAMES POLK: The first to buy was the first to die.
ALAN HILBURG: Tylenol changed the crisis landscape.
NARRATION: But have all the lessons been learned?
ARCHIVAL (ABC, GOOD MORNING AMERICA, 4-16-18):LINSEY DAVIS: Anger is boiling over on social media with the hashtag, boycott
TEXT ON SCREEN: Chicago, September 29, 1982
MICHELLE ROSEN: In 1982 I was eight years old and my mom had just gotten back from the maternity ward, went to the grocery store and bought Tylenol from the grocery store, that was doctors orders. And the next thing I knew I just saw my mom go out on a stretcher from my upstairs window and that was the last that I saw her.
NARRATION: Mary Reiners Tylenol had been inexplicably spiked with poison.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 9-30-82):TOM BROKAW: Three people are dead and another is in critical condition tonight.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 9-30-82):JIM CUMMINS: One of the victims took the pills he bought to his home.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 10-1-82):NED POTTER: His brother and sister in law were so upset by his death that they went back to the house and took some Tylenol from the same bottle.
NARRATION: As the death toll hit seven, the terrifying randomness of the poisonings shocked the nation.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 10-1-82):TOM BROKAW: That bizarre mystery of Tylenol laced with cyanide still has not been solved tonight.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 10-1-82):BOB MCNAMARA: Investigators say they are searching for, quote, a madman.
RICHARD J. BRZECZEK (FORMER SUPERINTENDENT, CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT): People were terrorized. They didnt know what product they had in their home that could possibly be lethal if they ingested it.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 10-4-82):UNNAMED WOMAN: Scared, really, that something, somebody could have tampered with some of the other products.
ARCHIVAL (PBS, THE MACNEIL/LEHRER NEWSHOUR, 9-30-83):ANNOUNCEMENT FROM POLICE CAR: Cyanide-contaminated Tylenol
MICHELLE ROSEN: We had police riding around in their, with their bullhorns yelling, Throw out your Tylenol. Flush it down the toilet.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, WORLD NEWS TONIGHT, 10-1-82):ANNOUNCEMENT FROM AMBULANCE: Do not take any Tylenol until further notice.
MICHELLE ROSEN: People were checking themselves into the E.R. thinking theyd been poisoned.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 9-30-82):UNNAMED WOMAN: I was just nervous for the baby.
MICHELLE ROSEN: It was absolute chaos.
ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 10-1-82):OFFICER: Flush it all down the commode, O.K.?
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 10-5-82):TYRONE C. FAHNER: There is no single person or even a group of single persons that stand out above the rest at this point in time.
TYRONE C. FAHNER (FORMER ILLINOIS ATTORNEY GENERAL): We had no clues as to the motivation, except the taking of human life. It made no sense, there was no clear and intended victim, but just anyone, anyone who happened to have the misfortune to buy a bottle of Tylenol.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 10-4-82):JIM CUMMINS: Police are looking for disgruntled employees, angry customers, anybody with a grudge against the stores or Tylenol.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 10-5-82):JIM CUMMINS: Police are even checking stock transactions to see whether someone was trying to push down the value of Johnson & Johnson stock.
ALAN HILBURG (FORMER EXECUTIVE, BURSON-MARSTELLER, PUBLIC RELATIONS FIRM): This was not a cockroach-in-the-box kind of an issue. People had lost their lives. That really created that vulnerability, that sense of risk, that sense of threat that I think really scared a lot of people, and justifiably.
NARRATION: Alan Hilburg worked for Johnson & Johnsons outside public relations firm, one that was increasingly focused on a new type of business: crisis management.
ALAN HILBURG: I remember asking lots of questions. The conversation was, Well, we need to recall. O.K. Do we recall from the store? Do we recall from the city? Do we recall from the region?
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 10-5-82):BARRY PETERSEN: All the bottles of Extra Strength capsules were removed Friday as part of the nationwide recall.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 10-6-82):MORTON DEAN: Now, not only is Extra Strength Tylenol off the shelves, Tylenol commercials are off the air.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 10-12-82):DAN RATHER: The race is on for Tylenols competitors.
TYRONE C. FAHNER: They didnt worry about the money. They didnt worry about the impact on the company. They stopped shipment, ordered all their distribution chains to pull it back in so that we could figure out what was going on. And that sticks out in my mind. It was not a negotiation or discussion. In fact, they stepped forward and volunteered it.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, WORLD NEWS TONIGHT, 11-11-82):MAX ROBINSON: Some analysts predict the Tylenol brand name will disappear within a year.
ALAN HILBURG: We concluded we were never going to be judged by what caused the problem. We were always going to be judged on, on, on how we responded to it.
NARRATION: Meanwhile, the criminal investigation seemed stuck in first gear.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 10-14-82):BOB MCNAMARA: The 130-man, million-dollar investigation, according to sources, hasnt lifted a promising fingerprint.
TYRONE C. FAHNER: We did receive hundreds, indeed, thousands of tips and would investigate and run down every single one of those tips.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 10-14-82):BOB MCNAMARA: A stolen car with Tylenol in it. The body of a man found with Tylenol in the coat pocket. The reports of a Tylenol shoplifter.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 10-14-82):TYRONE C. FAHNER: We got there and we said, Now, where did you get this information? and she says, I have a magic pen and it made me write these things up and I told you about it.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 10-14-82):BOB MCNAMARA: Hundreds of leads to the cyanide killer but most of them bum and bizarre.
NARRATION: Then there was a new development: an extortion letter threatening to do it again.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 10-15-82):TOM BROKAW: Authorities today stepped up their search for the man accused of demanding a million dollars from the makers of Tylenol to prevent further murders.
TYRONE C. FAHNER: The extortion letter when received was an obvious point of interest to the law enforcement authorities.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 10-15-82):JIM CUMMINS: James Lewis is said to have made that demand.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 10-14-82):HENRY CHAMP: He maintained as many as 20 aliases and described himself variously as a salesman, computer specialist, importer and freelance writer.
TYRONE C. FAHNER: We were trying to determine whether or not the person that sent the letter was indeed the one that had put the cyanide in all the capsules or whether it was just some lookalike or screwball taking advantage.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, WORLD NEWS TONIGHT, 10-15-82):TYRONE C. FAHNER: Common sense would tell you this is an important thing that we are looking at.
NARRATION: As the police searched for Lewis, Johnson & Johnson grappled with a $100 million recall and the future of one of its most lucrative brands.
ALAN HILBURG: The question became, How do we regain trust? It wasnt in the efficacy of the medicine. Tylenol works. Trust was lost in the packaging, because the packaging had enabled the poison, the cyanide, to be entered into the medicine.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, WORLD NEWS TONIGHT, 11-11-82):MAX ROBINSON: Six weeks to the day since the Tylenol murder story broke Johnson & Johnson held a news conference in New York to reintroduce Tylenol.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, WORLD NEWS TONIGHT, 12-31-82):TYLENOL AD: Tylenol capsules
ALAN HILBURG: It had the cotton ball, it had aluminum over the top, it had a child-proof cap, it had plastic over the child-proof cap. Those levels of safety became the levels of trust.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 9-28-83):UNNAMED WOMAN: I think theyre going the extra mile to make it sure that its consumer safe.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 2-24-83):JIM CUMMINS: Tylenol, the so-called eighth victim of this tragedy, is continuing to recover.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 9-28-83):DAN RATHER: A business turnaround one analyst calls the greatest comeback since Lazarus.
ALAN HILBURG: Packaging now had become a competitive advantage. Everything from food products to pharmaceuticals were favorably affected.
RICHARD J. BRZECZEK: If I take the cap off the milk carton you have to stick your finger in there, and grab the ring and pull the ring out along with the seal I think of Tylenol still to this day.
NARRATION: Today, although crisis management has become a multibillion-dollar industry, Hillberg says many companies seem to miss an important lesson: come clean with the public right away.
ALAN HILBURG: Were seeing too many examples of companies, whether its Volkswagen or Wells Fargo or Equifax, where situations actually exacerbate simply because they forgot the lesson that youre going to not be judged by what caused the crisis but by how you respond.
NARRATION: Johnson & Johnson has also stumbled since the Tylenol case. In 2010, it faced a public backlash after a series of drug recalls, including one the company conducted without letting regulators or consumers know.
ARCHIVAL (C-SPAN HOUSE OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE HEARING, 9-30-10):WILLIAM WELDON (JOHNSON & JOHNSON CEO): Mr. Chairman, I know that we let the public down.
ALAN HILBURG: The single most important metric of a companys value is trust. And thats what crises threaten. They threaten trust.
ARCHIVAL (KPIX NEWS, EARLY EDITION, 4-12-16):REPORTER: Faced with worldwide outrage over these images showing a passenger forcibly removed from a plane, United Airlines C.E.O. issued his third apology on Tuesday.
ALAN HILBURG: You said you were sorry, where are you going from here? Thats how Im going to judge whether I trust you or not.
NARRATION: Almost 40 years after the Tylenol murders, the case remains unsolved. While Lewis served 12 years in prison for the attempted extortion of Johnson & Johnson, he has long denied any involvement in the tampering and no one has ever been charged with the deadly crime.
TYRONE C. FAHNER: Lewis made himself a suspect because he tried to shake down money with the implication being that he had done it and would do it again. But we had several other suspects, none of which would answer the question of why and there was no direct link as to the indiscriminate taking of life.
RICHARD J. BRZECZEK: There was no evidence to pin it on anybody at that time, and there still hasnt been any evidence to pin it on anyone. So, thats where this all stands. Its the perfect crime.