From their Covid vaccine to adverse court decisions, Johnson & Johnson has confronted a series of crisis situations and accompanying bad publicity in 2021.The good news for the company is that it has a long history of bouncing back from adverse situations.
Yesterday Reuters reported that, “A panel of U.S. experts has voted unanimously to recommend the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines over Johnson & Johnson’s, which has been linked to deadly side effects.”
According to Forbes, “The move discourages patients from taking the J&J shot, but does not stop them from doing so or remove the vaccine from circulation, and the CDC said in a statement that J&J doses will remain available and ‘receiving any vaccine is better than being unvaccinated.’”
J & J did not immediately respond to a request to comment about the decision.
‘A Short-Term Tarnish’
Baruch Labunski, a reputation management expert and founder of Rank Secure, observed that, “The news of this recommendation may have a short-term tarnish on the Johnson & Johnson image but it will not last because, as the news cycle works, it will be overshadowed by more negative news that will undoubtedly come out related to the side effects of the other vaccines.”
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He recommended that, “Johnson & Johnson should immediately respond with clear facts about who is at risk, that no health authority recommends mixing vaccines after one is taken, and how their vaccine is internally and externally monitored. Officials should focus on the fact that it was the company that presented all side effect information to the FDC and the CDC in the first place.”
A ‘Swift And Severe Impact’
Crisis management expert Dave Oates, the principal of PR Security Service, was not so optimistic. “I predict the impact to J&J’s reputation for fighting Covid will be swift and severe. Their vaccine could go by the way of AstraZeneca if not responded to quickly.
“I would strongly recommend that the company’s senior leadership embark on a virtual press tour discussing the efficacy findings of their current vaccine formula. As important J&J must give a first-hand view to key media outlets and influencers that showcase how their scientists are executing a strategy to improve the effectiveness of their vaccine and will rollout new formulas in short order. They should message how doing so will not only combat the Omicron variant, but future ones.
“Lastly, I’d also recommend J&J provide key insights into other remedies they are developing to combat Covid similar to what Pfizer is doing. All of this should be messages in a way that emphasizes their expertise and commitment to saving lives. The time for the company to start this is yesterday.”
‘In A Negative Spotlight’
Jason Zhou, a professor of information design and corporate communication at Bentley University, thought that, “The voting result from the panel put J&J’s vaccine in a negative spotlight. The reputational damage to J&J depends on how much people trust the voting results.
“If J&J wants to refute the result, it must provide enough evidence to demonstrate its vaccine is as safe as Pfizer and Moderna, and the evidence should come from a third party (e.g. other academic research) rather than itself. The public generally has low trust in corporations compared with research institutions.
“Prior relationships with the public always play a big role in crisis communication and management. If a company has a good reputation before a crisis, it’s more likely it can survive because people are more likely to trust the company’s words. However, in J&J’s case, due to the baby powder crisis in the past several years, the trust has been broken. J&J needs more effort to convince the public compared with a company that enjoys a good reputation.”
‘Outright Public Rejection’
Public relations and marketing consultant Mark Havenner predicted that, “The immediate impact of the panel’s decision will be the outright public rejection of J & J as a viable choice for vaccinations. The general public opinion wasn’t exactly positive on the vaccine to begin with. There is no changing that perception. The best thing for J & J is to embrace the science and step aside for the others to take their place.
“However, J & J as a global brand can stand strong with the legacy that they were one of the first to market and the single-shot application allowed them to access far more communities far quicker during the early parts of the pandemic. They should celebrate that legacy as a cornerstone of their brand and look for other ways shift resources into helping with the pandemic response,” he concluded.
A History Of Bouncing Back
As I wrote in April, “J & J has weathered other PR storms in its 135-year history, ranging from the deaths in 1982 of seven people who took extra-strength Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide to a 2018 report by Reuters that the company had known for decades that the raw material in talcum powder could be contaminated with asbestos but tried to cover it up.