Ivy Lee and the First Press Release

Don’t fight the press—invite them.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

Ivy Lee is known for issu­ing the first press release.

Ivy Lee is con­sidered one of the founders of mod­ern pub­lic rela­tions. His innov­at­ive PR and cor­por­ate com­mu­nic­a­tions approaches have had a last­ing impact on the industry.

Here we go:

Ivy Lee and the First Press Release

Ivy Lee - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Ivy Lee (July 16, 1877 – November 9, 1934). Image: Wikipedia
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Ivy Lee and the First Press Release

In 1906, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, a ter­rible train acci­dent drowned 53 people. 11906 Atlantic City train wreck. (2023, December 24). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​1​9​0​6​_​A​t​l​a​n​t​i​c​_​C​i​t​y​_​t​r​a​i​n​_​w​r​eck

The acci­dent was a tragedy for every­one involved but poten­tially a dis­aster for the Pennsylvania Railroad. They retained one of the first pub­lic rela­tions agen­cies, Parker & Lee. 2Ivy Lee. (2024, January 1). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​I​v​y​_​Lee

The agency had been foun­ded only a year before the acci­dent in 1905 as the third PR agency in the US.

One of the founders, the legendary PR pro­fes­sion­al Ivy Ledbetter Lee, wanted to help the Pennsylvania Railroad, his first major cli­ent, get the right story out. Hence, Lee cre­ated the first-ever press release. 3The First Press Release. (2016, April 10). News Museum. https://​www​.news​mu​seum​.pt/​e​n​/​s​p​i​n​-​w​a​l​l​/​f​i​r​s​t​-​p​r​e​s​s​-​r​e​l​e​ase

Rather than try­ing to sup­press the story, which would’ve been stand­ard prac­tice then, he invited the press to the acci­dent scene. Despite the unfor­tu­nate acci­dent, the Pennsylvania Railroad got good press cov­er­age for man­aging the dis­aster well.

Keeping the press, and by exten­sion, the gen­er­al pub­lic, up to date with an offi­cial state­ment is still some­thing the PR industry strives to do. 4Morris, T. (2014, August 25). Ivy Lee and the ori­gins of the press release. PR Academy; PR Academy. https://​pracademy​.co​.uk/​i​n​s​i​g​h​t​s​/​i​v​y​-​l​e​e​-​a​n​d​-​t​h​e​-​o​r​i​g​i​n​s​-​o​f​-​t​h​e​-​p​r​e​s​s​-​r​e​l​e​a​se/

Ivy Lee - First Press Release - New York Times - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Statement in The New York Times.

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The Ivy Lee Method

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The Ivy Lee Method for Productivity

The Ivy Lee Method for pro­ductiv­ity, known for its sim­pli­city and effect­ive­ness, centres around a daily routine designed to enhance effi­ciency and focus. 5Clear, J. (2015, July 7). The Ivy Lee Method: The Daily Routine Experts Recommend for Peak Productivity. James Clear. https://​jamesclear​.com/​i​v​y​-​lee

The story behind this meth­od dates back to 1918, when Ivy Ledbetter Lee, a pion­eer­ing pub­lic rela­tions con­sult­ant, pro­posed a straight­for­ward strategy to Charles M. Schwab, the pres­id­ent of Bethlehem Steel Corporation, one of the largest steel pro­du­cers and ship­build­ing com­pan­ies in the United States.

Seeking to improve his exec­ut­ives’ effi­ciency, Schwab invited Lee to offer his coun­sel. Lee’s sug­ges­tion was not to over­haul the com­pany’s oper­a­tions but to imple­ment a simple daily prac­tice for each exec­ut­ive. He asked Schwab to have his exec­ut­ives write down the six most import­ant tasks they needed to accom­plish the next day at the end of each work­day. These tasks were to be lis­ted in order of importance. 

The next day, the exec­ut­ives were to start work­ing on the tasks in the order they were lis­ted, com­plet­ing the first task before mov­ing on to the second, and so forth, con­tinu­ing this pro­cess through­out the day. If any tasks were left unfin­ished at the day’s end, they would be moved to the next day’s list of six tasks. This pro­cess was to be repeated every day.

Lee’s meth­od emphas­ized pri­or­it­iz­a­tion and focus, encour­aging indi­vidu­als to con­cen­trate on tasks with the most sig­ni­fic­ant impact first. He fam­ously told Schwab to try this meth­od for three months and then send him a check for whatever he thought it was worth. 

After three months, Schwab was so pleased with the pro­ductiv­ity improve­ment that he sent Lee a check for $25,000 — a con­sid­er­able sum at the time, equi­val­ent to hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars today.

The Ivy Lee Method has endured for over a cen­tury, a test­a­ment to its effect­ive­ness and sim­pli­city. It under­scores the power of pri­or­it­iz­a­tion, focus, and the dis­cip­line of tack­ling tasks one at a time, prin­ciples that remain rel­ev­ant in today’s fast-paced world.

Learn more: Ivy Lee and the First Press Release

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Controversial Clients, Transparency, and Legacy

Ivy Lee worked as a journ­al­ist before mak­ing his mark in pub­lic rela­tions. His exper­i­ence in journ­al­ism influ­enced his PR strategies, emphas­ising the import­ance of trans­par­ency and accur­ate inform­a­tion. 6Ivy Lee. (2024, January 1). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​I​v​y​_​Lee

Lee stud­ied at Princeton University, where he gradu­ated in 1898. His edu­ca­tion was cru­cial in shap­ing his intel­lec­tu­al approach to pub­lic relations.

In 1906, Lee issued a “Declaration of Principles” to news­pa­per journ­al­ists, which was revolu­tion­ary then. This doc­u­ment out­lined his approach to pub­lic rela­tions, emphas­iz­ing open­ness, accur­acy, and the pub­lic interest, mark­ing a sig­ni­fic­ant shift from the secret­ive prac­tices of the era. 7Morris, T. (2014, August 25). Ivy Lee and the ori­gins of the press release. PR Academy; PR Academy. https://​pracademy​.co​.uk/​i​n​s​i​g​h​t​s​/​i​v​y​-​l​e​e​-​a​n​d​-​t​h​e​-​o​r​i​g​i​n​s​-​o​f​-​t​h​e​-​p​r​e​s​s​-​r​e​l​e​a​se/

Lee’s work for the Rockefeller fam­ily, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the Ludlow Massacre, was con­tro­ver­sial. He was hired to help man­age the pub­lic image of the Rockefellers and their coal min­ing oper­a­tions after the viol­ent strike. His strategies dur­ing this time have been both praised for their innov­a­tion and cri­ti­cized for attempt­ing to manip­u­late pub­lic opinion.

One of Lee’s first major cli­ents was the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1912. He was hired to man­age the rail­road’s pub­lic image, pion­eer­ing new prac­tices such as issu­ing press releases and con­duct­ing press conferences.

During World War I, Lee provided pub­lic rela­tions coun­sel to the German gov­ern­ment in the United States, which later drew cri­ti­cism and led to him testi­fy­ing before a Congressional com­mit­tee about his work.

During the war, Lee also advised the American Red Cross, show­cas­ing his abil­ity to man­age pub­lic rela­tions for diverse and some­times con­flict­ing organizations.

Lee’s prin­ciples and prac­tices influ­enced the early devel­op­ment of pub­lic rela­tions edu­ca­tion, lay­ing the ground­work for a sig­ni­fic­ant aca­dem­ic and pro­fes­sion­al field.

Ivy Lee’s leg­acy in PR is a mix­ture of pion­eer­ing achieve­ments and eth­ic­al debate. His com­mit­ment to trans­par­ency and provid­ing accur­ate inform­a­tion has been hailed as found­a­tion­al to mod­ern pub­lic rela­tions eth­ics. However, his work with con­tro­ver­sial cli­ents and using PR to man­age pub­lic opin­ion have sparked dis­cus­sions about the eth­ic­al bound­ar­ies of pub­lic rela­tions work.

Ivy Lee’s con­tri­bu­tions to pub­lic rela­tions have left a mark on the field, embody­ing both the poten­tial and the chal­lenges of shap­ing pub­lic per­cep­tion through stra­tegic com­mu­nic­a­tion.

Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please con­sider shar­ing my pub­lic rela­tions blog with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tion and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. If you have ques­tions (or want to retain my PR ser­vices), please con­tact me at jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR Resource: Notable PR Contributors

Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that there is more to life than strategic communication.

The cover photo has


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