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  • Writer's pictureFifth Street

Being Truthful in a Crisis is Key

Johnson & Johnson is facing a $575 million fine after breaking the public nuisance law in Oklahoma. The company practiced opioid marketing tactics that a judge claimed, intentionally played down the dangers and oversold the benefits of opioids. According to Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland County District Court, the company had “promulgated false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns that had caused exponentially increasing rates of addiction, overdose deaths and babies born exposed to opioids.”

An assistant professor of pediatrics Dr. Christiana Oji-Mmuo said the study suggests that babies who were exposed to opioids in the womb may need special care earlier than previously thought. Special care may include prescribing certain medicines, giving them the right fluids, and being fed higher-calorie baby formula. According to researchers from Penn State College of Medicine , “opioids block the release of norepinephrine, a chemical released in the body during times of stress.” Johnson & Johnson (J&J) continues to deny wrongdoing.

The lawyer representing J&J, Sabrina Strong, was quoted in a BBC report saying, “We have sympathy for all who suffer from substance abuse, but J&J did not cause the opioid abuse crisis here in Oklahoma, or anywhere in this country.” Although J&J claims to have marketed the drugs responsibly, some experts say the company has fueled the first wave of the opioid crisis.

Whether in a legal trial or the court of public opinion, an organization can be judged for its public relations and marketing strategies. Especially as consumers, it’s also important for organizations to take stances on political and social issues and be good leaders. The way an organization reaches an audience and presents messages can have a huge effect on the reputation of the organization.

To be socially responsible is when the organization is concerned about people, society and environment with whom and where it conducts business. In its most basic form, socially responsible marketing is taking moral actions that encourage a positive impact on all the company’s stakeholders, including employees, community, consumers, and shareholders.The main responsibility of marketers in this aspect is to package and communicate the organization’s decisions that will impact the various communities with which they interact.

Gerald C. Meyers, a former chairman of American Motors, wrote in his book,When it hits the fan, quoted that “When a company like J&J gets into trouble, and the trouble is made public, the way its executives manage the release of information and handle themselves in dealing with the media can be as important as their business decisions. Even if the amounts of money involved do not threaten the life of the corporation, the damage to its reputation will have serious consequences.”

Although J&J is facing negative backlash, it isn’t the first time they have dealt with a crisis. In 1982 J&J’s management learned that its premier product, extra-strength Tylenol, had been used as a murder weapon to kill three people. In the days that followed, another three people died from swallowing Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide. The organization found a way to market their Tylenol medicine in a better and safer way.

The communication after a crisis is so vital because, in many situations, the magnitude of the crisis is measured by the reaction of society. With greater media hype, more public access to information, along with organizations with specific agendas, a crisis can be blown out of proportion or watered down depending on the attention that it receives. In public relations, it is important for an organization or company like J&J to speak to the public with integrity.

Finding a good communication plan can help an organization build back their reputation.

With a big company like J&J, it is important to have a good communication plan in place that way when a crisis hits, they can be better prepared in swaying the public.

Kara Martin is a junior from Anderson University, majoring in public relations and criminal justice. Kara is an associate with Fifth Street Communications®, a student-run public relations agency at Anderson University.


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