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

January 27, 2014

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”.


Editor’s Corner: PR Disasters! Why a Crisis Comm Plan is Critical

October 20, 2011
by Fawzy Zablah, Editor, Business Wire/Florida

by Fawzy Zablah, Editor, BW Florida

Ever since “the father of modern public relations,” Ivy Lee, sent out what most consider the first press release following the 1906 Atlantic City train wreck, companies, individuals, governments and news agencies have participated in an unofficial competition to win what I call “the best told story contest.” It’s a race that is not won by the “best story” per se, but the victor is usually either the first to get there, truth-tellers, or the best re-arranger of reality. It’s a race that must be run whether you own a newly opened restaurant or a tech company.

Let’s travel to more modern times, and take as an example the most recent Blackberry outage issues which have turned out to be a PR nightmare for Research in Motion (RIM). During a crisis, a company should never have a slow response because it shows a lack of control over the situation. And even if the situation is not under control, your PR assault should always confidently be the first to storm the beach.

These days, companies need to be aware of how critical it is to have a quick line of communication with customers, whether through issuing press releases regarding recent events or via direct statements to the press. A company always has to appear like it’s in control as far as good PR is concerned, even if it isn’t. Ivy Lee knew that as soon as word got out of the Atlantic City train wreck, rumors would swirl, the story would grow legs of its own and it would no longer be his client’s story. That’s why the first rule of crisis management is to communicate. The beginning of the crisis is the most critical period, and it sets the tone for the rest of the incident.

So let’s finish this crisis management lesson with thoughts Ivy Lee espoused so long ago, and which are now a golden rule of PR: “Tell the truth, because sooner or later the public will find out anyway. And if the public doesn’t like what you are doing, change your policies and bring them into line with what people want.”

With 31 bureaus around the world and more newsrooms than all of our competitors combined, Business Wire is proud to provide local expertise and superior service, backed by the most accurate editors in the world. In Editor’s Corner, we ask some of our best to chime in on how to get the most out of your press release, based on their years of experience in the industry.


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