Tylenol's crisis manager Lawrence Foster dies at 88

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The man behind Johnson & Johnson's legend-making response to the 1982 Tylenol poisoning scare has died. The New York Times reports that Lawrence Foster, a former journalist and head of J&J's PR department, died at the age of 88. Foster had cancer and heart failure.

Under Foster's direction, the company halted all Tylenol advertising and pulled more than 30 million bottles off the shelves. Seven died after consuming capsules that had been tampered with after production and cyanide was added to capsules already on store shelves. According to a University of Florida project about the crisis, Tylenol's hold on the market fell from 37% to 7%.

Foster advised Johnson & Johnson's then-chair James Burke to be the face of the reputation campaign that is now a touchstone of crisis management and led to the brand rising to a 30% market share after the product returned to stores. Foster's strategy was to provide a human element and ownership of the crisis, without polish. Then-chair of McNeil, David Collins, tells the Times Foster's direction was “tell them what we know, and we're not going to tell them what we don't know. We'll tell them we don't know, and we'll get back to them when we do know.”

The company's multi-prong strategy for regaining consumer confidence included tamper-resistant packaging (and replacing capsules with caplets), consumer discounts, and sending sales reps into the field to talk to doctors about the product's integrity.

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