Crisis management at Bausch & Lomb?

While it’s clearly not quite as bad as the deliberate poisoning of Tylenol in the 1980s, the sudden withdrawal of Bausch & Lomb‘s ReNu eyedrops and product line present a similar corporate communications challenge, and one where it’ll be very interesting to see how the company responds.
The facts are thus (from the Wall Street Journal):
“The Rochester, N.Y., company suspended of shipments of its ReNu with MoistureLoc contact-lens cleanser this week following a U.S. Centers for Disease Control review of 109 cases of an infection known as fungal keratitis. Some 26 of the cases were in people who used ReNu products.
“Bausch & Lomb’s suspension of its ReNu contact solutions triggers a stock drop. The product that Bausch & Lomb stopped shipping contains MoistureLoc, a component designed to help lenses retain moisture. U.S. sales of the product were $45 million in 2005. Bausch & Lomb also sells other ReNu brands.”
So far, Bausch & Lomb isn’t managing this crisis very well at all.

Indeed, this morning Walgreens announced that it was pulling all ReNu products from the shelves, as reported by CNN Money.
We’re in the digital age so it’s important to note that the Bausch & Lomb home page has no reference whatsoever to any issues with the ReNu product line (not even when you look at their ReNu product information) and that even Walgreens might have pulled product from their shelves, but you can still pop online and buy the product in question.
One of the greatest challenges of crisis communication is synchronization of the message, and by paying attention, we should be able to see how this plays out in the next few days and weeks with Bausch & Lomb too. Clearly at this point we’re early in the crisis and there is almost a lack of coordination within B&L and at major retailers like Walgreens. Indeed, it’s arguable whether Walgreen’s hasn’t overreacted by pulling the entire ReNu brand from its shelves, since the CDC report identified a specific ingredient that’s only in a subset of ReNu products.
A bit more rationally, Wal*Mart and Rite Aid have pulled the MoistureLoc subset of the ReNu product line from its shelves. (neither offers contact lens products through its Web sites, so there’s no synchronization problem there).
I also find it unsurprising that the usual crowd of business bloggers are completely missing this story: If there’s one area where a company could make good use of the “thought and opinion leader” aspect of blogging, it’s crisis management. Yet the big stories in the blogosphere are the usual tedium about Google voice search, Yahoo satellite imagery, and MySpace safety.
But let’s put this out there: how would you suggest B&L begin to manage this crisis? What would you be doing online and off to help minimize the fallout? Would you offer a highly publicized free trade-in for people who send in bottles of ReNu with MoistureLoc? Would you have information about how to recognize the symptoms of this particular infection? Or would you pull “an ostrich” and hope it’ll all just blow away in a week or three?

5 comments on “Crisis management at Bausch & Lomb?

  1. B&L has now made their homepage a little more honest.
    I think they genuinely don’t know what’s going on. the most worrying thing is that this all began in February. i thouoght it had all died down but obviously them suspending sales in the USA has changed that.
    It’s amazing how quickly the fear spreads though:
    The product in Sweden is made in Milan and there have been no ‘spikes’ in Fusarium keratitis in Europe.
    The amazing thing here though is that there has only been a statistical link, not a causal one.

  2. Another interesting item to think about. Bausch & Lomb’s CEO, Ron Zarella whose name is on the letter to the public: isn’t he the guy that got in trouble with the B&L board for lying on his resume?
    Should he be trusted during this crisis?

  3. Bausch & Lomb have stressed that there are no Scientific evidence has linked its ReNu MoistureLoc to the fungal infections.
    Has anyone ever heard of the phrase “innocent until proven guilty”?

  4. The CDC has STATISTICALLY linked Renu/MoistureLoc to the fungal infections, but not the other Renu/Multipurpose product. Duh.
    Ever heard of “DO NO HARM”? It’s the underlying principle of everyone who works in a first-world health-care related field, including the execs at J&J who understood how to save your Brand Value during the Tylenol Poisoning Crisis in the 80s. Since CEO Ron Zarella ONLY FAKED his MBA on his resume, he seems to have bungled a TEXTBOOK case at B&L. Not to mention screwing up the marketing at GM, the company that FIRED him before he landed at B&L.
    Add to this the fact that under Zarella, B&L HAS NOT FILED ANY ANNUAL/QUARTERLY REPORTS SINCE 2004? Why does it take over TWO YEARS (and counting) to get your numbers correct??? So, yeah, you’re right pal: Ron Zarella would NEVER tell a lie.

  5. The crises of Bausch & Lomb’s ReNu eye drops and product line recall had no social media communication response due to its slow process. The swift response of big drug distributors removing B&L products from their shifts was very responsible and would be seen as an act of customers’ safety. The lock of swift actions on the part of B&L to its customer through social network needed to be look at in the near future. The lock of media responses is still to be heard off in many parts of the country.

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