The Press Release Then and Now: How We Arrived At Where We Are Today

By: Hannah Kelly, Business Wire, Paris

This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most important milestones in the history of public relations – Ivy Lee’s management of the 1913-1914 Colorado Coal Strike aftermath.

The term ‘Public Relations’ first appeared in the 1897 Year Book of Railway Literature, and the original press release, which we can credit to Ivy Lee, was published in 1906 – following the tragic loss of 50 lives in the Pennsylvanian Railroad Crash.

Equally, Lee’s Declaration of Principles, also released in 1906, was a turning point for public relations, as it communicated the responsibility of those working in PR, not only to the client but also to the public. This declaration ensured that Lee’s work was subsequently accepted not in the form of advertising, but as news, as accurate information, as matter “of value and interest to the public”. This was, and still is, the founding principle of wire services such as Business Wire, Associated Press, AFP and more.

So with all of these important events taking place before 1914, what exactly was it about the Colorado Coal Strike that is now so crucial to the history of public relations?

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

Firstly, the strike needed publicity management due to its hotly controversial nature – on-strike miners and their families were killed by state militia, and the mining union blamed the Rockefeller family and their coal mining business for the deaths.

Lee used, to his advantage, the establishment and acceptance of his Declaration of Principles as the basis for the management of the Colorado Coal Strike aftermath.  He drafted and mailed an array of bulletins to media outlets and workers alike, addressing the issue with candor (as well as successfully keeping the Rockefeller name free from reputational damage). This has become known as one of the most successful and influential PR campaigns – an experience that demonstrated, for the first time, the importance of publicity and public relations to the American nation.

It should be noted that doubts do exist regarding the authenticity of this campaign, whether certain facts were distorted, and if this was the case, as to whether this was intentional or not. However, despite any uncertainties, we must concede that this campaign achieved its goals : to promote the facts of the event and to share news with the public, whilst recognising its responsibility to both the public and the client, the Rockefeller’s.

Many years later, the standard of PR established in Lee’s Declaration of Principles has evolved significantly. It is now so well integrated into modern society that we no longer even question it. PR is an essential part of business life – and it would be unthinkable to run a company nowadays without openness and honesty to the public. It is for this reason that Business Wire works so hard to ensure the authenticity of all press releases, and adheres to such stringent security regulations. We agree with Lee’s rules: “Accuracy, Authenticity, and Interest”.

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