Why Taco Bell Is Botching E. Coli Crisis

Think quick: What do Taco Bell and Johnson & Johnson have in common?

Nothing, save this. One knows how to respond to a crisis, and the other hasn't a clue.

Taco Bell's the one without a clue.

Only now, weeks after 70 diners at its East Coast restaurants fell sick with E. coli poisoning is the company's president coming out and talking to the press. Weeks!

A far cry from what his counterpart at Johnson & Johnson did more than two decades ago after the now infamous Tylenol tampering scandal. James Burke didn't waste a nanosecond taking to the airwaves to update Americans on the latest news — "as" he got it, "when" he got it.

Like the Taco Bell crisis, the Tylenol crisis wasn't the company's fault. In Taco Bell's case, it looks like a lettuce supplier. In J & J's case, it looked like a lone nutjob lacing Tylenol capsules with cyanide.

A lot of people got sick in this Taco Bell case. People died in the Tylenol case.

Sales fell at Taco Bell. Sales fell at Tylenol.

I don't know if Taco Bell's sales will recover. I do know Tylenol's did. Precisely because its CEO was so on top of a crisis, removing old capsules and replacing them with the kind of tamper resistant pills and packaging we're all familiar with today.

Burke did that at great cost, and against great financial advice. They told him it would be too costly. His famous reply: It would be too costly not to.

Burke was everywhere, talking to everyone. Far from trying to bury a crisis, he was "on" the crisis.

End result: Tylenol's share of the pain reliever market went up. Lesson learned.

It takes more than a press release to solve a crisis, or a chat with the FDA to end it.

Try talking to your consumers directly. Immediately. The ones who eat your food. And the ones who were getting sick from your food.

You owe them more than a press release. Or a weeks' late public assurance. You're the president, for God's sake. Act like it.

Take a lesson from Tylenol. They know a thing or two about headaches.

Only difference: They know how to deal with them.

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