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?