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You Never Write, You Never Call: Some Advice from Mom to Johnson & Johnson

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A guest post by Gregg S. Lipman of CBX.

Dear Johnson & Johnson,

For many years, I’ve depended on you to be there for my family and me. Your products are our staples: Your Band-Aids have helped mend scrapes; your Children’s Tylenol has brought fevers down; your baby shampoo has never caused a tear.

I’ve been impressed with how you have consistently adhered to your company’s now-famous credo, crafted in 1943, that begins: “We believe that our first duty is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services. In meeting their needs, everything we do must be of high quality.” Your corporate actions and brands have always held the high ground.

But, J&J, I’ve been disappointed with the way you’ve handled the recalls of your products, as well as by some business dealings, in the past year. Little by little, your products disappeared from shelves---to be exact, there have been 22 product recalls, involving well over 300 million bottles of medicines, since September 2009---without so much as a peep out of you. (Most notably, OB Tampons went missing, only to return in April, more than six months later … without nary a statement as to why they’d been pulled in the first place.) I waited for explanations … silence.

Meanwhile, I saw you in the news and at congressional hearings (like the one a few weeks ago in which you were fined $70 million for paying bribes to European doctors to use your devices.) Yikes. Needless to say, this behavior doesn’t reflect the J&J I know and love.

This silence has taken its toll. Lost revenue stemming from recalls and the lengthy closure of a plant in suburban Philadelphia reduced J&J's 2010 sales by $900 million. In the fourth quarter, J&J posted a 12% profit decline and a 5.5% drop in sales.

Fortunately, it’s not too late for you to make things right. J&J has always been in the business of building and sustaining trust, and if you take your own medicine, this may just be a tiny blemish on your rock-solid reputation. To regain your footing , you just have to look at your own credo for guidance. I quote:

We must be good citizens.
Johnson & Johnson has always been good about apologizing in a timely manner for mistakes. (When Tylenol turned up tainted in 1982, you jumped into action, even when the tragedy wasn’t your fault. Now THAT was good citizenship.) Now, unfortunately, you’ve already let more than enough time pass between the recalls and a public statement. It’s time to say “sorry” to regain the trust of your consumers.

Working conditions [must be] clean, orderly and safe.
Your Fort Washington, Pennsylvania plant has been closed for almost a year. Now, there is talk that you will shut down your plant in Las Piedras, Puerto Rico. Once you fix the problems at your plants (or better yet, build state-of-the-art new ones), go one step further and show us what’s really going on behind the scenes by adopting a policy of complete openness. Install 24/7 webcams in your plants. Post updates via YouTube. Keep us informed through Twitter to demonstrate your commitment to making things better.

Research must be carried on, innovative programs developed and mistakes paid for.
In recent months, Advil has tried to bank on Tylenol’s misfortune by launching a campaign, “Say Yes to Advil,” which is essentially encouraging people to, “Say No to Tylenol.” Show your customers and competitors you haven’t thrown in the towel. By continuing to create innovative new products (as well as bringing back your existing ones), you will show the public that you cannot be impeded by this blip on the radar, and that you are, and always will be, living up to your promises.

We are responsible to our employees. We must respect their dignity and recognize their merit.
If you want your staff to live up to your company credo, then you have to respect their dignity and recognize their merit---even if that merit is warranted because they’ve called out imperfections within your own company. Stand by the people who are helping rebuild your company, stood by you in hard times, and even the ones who blew the whistle on you because they are ultimately helping you to live up to the high standards that you have set for yourself.

It’s never easy for a mother to discipline her child, and it pains me to have to adopt this tone with you, Johnson & Johnson. But tough love is sometimes required in tough times. By getting back to the words on which your company is built, I think you can find your way back.

Full disclosure: In this article, the role of “Mom” was played by CBX’s managing partner, Gregg Lipman (an actual dad, who has spent enough time with his own mother and wife to dish out maternal wisdom---and who holds J&J in high enough regard to care).

Gregg S. Lipman is managing partner at CBX, a strategic branding company with expertise in corporate, consumer, and retail experiences.


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