PR disasters can come in a variety of forms and the impact they have can be huge. It’s important to make sure you respond correctly in order to limit the damage and get things back on track sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet cure to the problems that can strike a business during a crisis but there are lessons you can learn.

The best way to learn the most valuable lessons is to understand how other businesses have handled PR disasters in the past, with a clear focus on the ones that managed to handle them well. There are various ways in which you can successfully manage a crisis and the history of corporate PR is a testament to that fact.

So, without any further ado, here are some examples of PR disasters that were handled very well by businesses and what you can learn from them.

1982

Johnson & Johnson’s Cyanide-Laced Tylenol Capsules

What Happened?

After taking Extra Strength Tylenol capsules, a total of seven people died. This happened because someone laced the capsules with the lethal poison potassium cyanide. It was never discovered who was responsible for the horrific act.

How Johnson & Johnson Responded

The quick response from Johnson & Johnson is to be commended. They immediately stopped advertising the product, halted production and pulled a total of 31 million bottles of it from shelves, at a huge financial cost. They also got involved with helping the police with their investigations to find the murderer.

The Outcome

Thanks to their no-nonsense fast response, Johnson & Johnson garnered many plaudits for how they reacted to this crisis and it’s easy to see why. Despite the horror of the events that took place, Johnson & Johnson were shown in a positive light.

1993

PepsiCo’s Can Tampering Rumors

What Happened?

When someone claimed that they’d found a syringe in a can of Diet Pepsi, there was widespread panic. It led to 50 other claims of Pepsi cans that had been tampered with. However, it was later found to be a hoax.

How PepsiCo Responded

PepsiCo was sure that their product had not been tampered with in any way so came out and defended their brand strongly. They went further than making claims, however. They also produced evidence, including footage of the canning process. They eventually also produced footage of a store clerk planting the syringe in a Diet Pepsi can.

The Outcome

The talk around tampered with cans quickly died down and the people responsible for false claims were arrested. PepsiCo’s aggressive response paid off.

1994

Texaco’s Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

What Happened?

Six African-American Texaco workers sued their employer for alleged racial discrimination. Thanks to secretly recorded audio of company executives, the problem was all but confirmed and it didn’t look good.

How Texaco Responded

An investigation was set up by Texaco and while it was ongoing, the executives embroiled in the scandal were suspended. The company CEO then offered a public apology before touring branches and apologizing to employees. They also ran an ad campaign that aimed to limit the damage.

The Outcome

Texaco’s response was enough to soften some of the justified ill-feeling towards the company. CEO Peter Biljur did a good job of showing and proving the company’s embarrassment and regret. They also settled the suit and took steps to ensure the problem didn’t arise again.

1996

Odwalla Foods’ Apple Juice E.coli Outbreak

What Happened?

When health officials in Washington confirmed that the source of an E.coli outbreak was apple juice sold at Odwalla Foods, it was big news. One child sadly died and 60 other people were sick. In total, 20 lawsuits hit the company.

How Odwalla Foods Responded

Following the news, Odwalla Foods immediately recalled all of the products they sold that contained apple or carrot juice. The CEO took full responsibility and paid all medical costs relating to the E.coli outbreak.

The Outcome

Taking out an ad explaining the situation certainly helped, and although the company lost a huge chunk of its market value and faced criminal charges, the brand survived and made improvements.

2003

Cadbury’s Worm-Infested Chocolate

What Happened?

In India, two Cadbury chocolate bars were found to be infested by worms, prompting the Maharashtra FDA to close the manufacturing plant where they believed the chocolate came from in nearby Pune.

How Cadbury Responded

At first, Cadbury denied the possibility of the problem arising at the manufacturing stage, but they later launched a PR project to educate retailers on better storage processes. They also improve their manufacturing and relaunched the Dairy Milk bars with new packaging.

The Outcome

Despite an initial fall in sales, the company recovered and their actions helped boost sales once more. The ad campaign and new packaging for the relevant chocolate bars certainly helped.

2007

JetBlue’s Week-Long Operational Breakdown

What Happened?

The outcome of 2007’s East Coast ice storm was 1000 cancelled JetBlue flights in the space of a week. Their operations halted almost entirely.

How JetBlue Responded

Despite the weather being the major factor here, JetBlue never openly blamed the weather and instead took responsibility and apologized to passengers. They made it clear what kind of financial compensation they were offering customers affected too.

The Outcome

Passengers obviously weren’t happy at first but the damage was limited thanks to the quick response and money paid out to affected passengers. Their customer service was impressive.

2010

Toyota’s Recall Fiasco

What Happened?

Owing to safety defects, 8.8 million cars had to be recalled by Toyota in 2010. It was found that the accelerator was jamming and multiple deaths were caused as a result.

How Toyota Responded

Toyota sent out a PR team to quell the backlash but the company’s executives were absent. This slow response cost them but they followed it up by bouncing back. They did this by offering extended warranties and used its historic safety record to reassure customers. Via ads, they also showed a real dedication to fixing the problem.

The Outcome

Despite a slow start, Toyota recovered and showed real determination to fix the problem. This is what was so effective for them in the end. They showed the world that it was a freak occurrence and wouldn’t happen again.

2011

The Red Cross’ Accidental Tweet

What Happened?

A Red Cross employee accidentally sent out a tweet that was intended for their private account. The tweet was about drinking beer, so clearly not appropriate for the Red Cross.

How Red Cross Responded

The tweet went viral and everyone seemed to be talking about it, so there was no hiding from the problem. They simply owned up to the mistake and followed it with a humorous tweet.

The Outcome

By owning up to things and getting in on the joke, the Red Cross managed to deal with the problem in a light-hearted way. It showed a human side and the whole affair probably did more good than harm.

2011

Taco Bell’s “Seasoned Beef” Meat Filling Lawsuit

What Happened?

The company that runs Taco Bell was sued when it was alleged that only 35% of the company’s seasoned beef was actually beef. Therefore, it was alleged that Taco Bell was lying to customers.

How Taco Bell Responded

In response to this, Taco Bell issued a denial and released the numbers. They showed that 88% of the seasoned beef was made from beef. Following that, they started a PR campaign that aimed to combat the false allegations.

The Outcome

The campaign went down very well with people who were fans of the brand and it might have won over some new people as well. The lawsuit was swiftly dropped too.