What Today’s PR Pros Can Learn from A 100-Year Old Press Release

By Vilan Trub, Business Wire

On October 28, 1906, tragedy occurred – an eastbound train speeding through Atlantic City derailed over a drawbridge causing 53 passengers to drown in the creek below. Popular corporate practice at the time called for Pennsylvania Railroad, owners of the ill-fated train, to cover up the incident. This is exactly what might have happened had it not been for 220px-Ivy_Lee from WikipediaIvy Lee, an early public relations practitioner hired by the company to build a better public image. He saw the event as an opportunity to establish a better relationship with journalists; a relationship based on trust and communication. Under his advisement, Pennsylvania Railroad invited members of the press to the scene of the accident and released a statement detailing the known facts. The New York Times was so impressed by the candor of the issued statement that they chose to print it, word-for-word. The modern day press release: issued statements aimed at disclosing company news to interested parties, was born.

What made the news release so popular? Journalists welcomed the new cooperation from companies and organizations in bringing facts to the public. It has been almost 110 years since Pennsylvania Railroad reached out to the media and still company communication is a welcome presence for journalists. In a recent media survey, 90% of the over 300 industry professionals participating used a company-issued news release in the previous week.

Last time a reporter used a press release

While the name Ivy Lee is known to few PR pros, his legacy continues to influence best communication practices even in the digital age. Lee understood that a news release was only as valuable to the issuing company as it was to the recipients, journalists and other news makers. Nothing states this notion more than one of the guidelines listed in his Declaration of Principles, an announcement that established the modern role of public relations.

“This is not an advertising agency. If you think any of our matter ought properly to go to your business office, do not use it.” – Ivy Lee, Declaration of Principles

How can Lee’s guidelines aid in composing a news release for the digital era?

  • Be Trusted and Timely – Ivy Lee understood that trust is the cornerstone of successfully managing company yay-15034446-digital (1)communications and building a bigger, better brand. With online conversations occurring 24/7 it is important to act swiftly when responding to a crisis or even a potential crisis in order to best manage public sentiment and maintain a high reputation.
  • Focus on the Facts – News content is reliant on facts and there is no quicker way to receive coverage than providing the very facts journalists and media professionals need to craft their coverage pieces
  • Be Interesting – In the digital and mobile age, the headline is the only knock on the door that can garner articles and other coverage for a news release. Don’t be coy and make sure to present enough information to let the reader know what lies inside is legitimate newsworthy content.        Added Multimedia Got More Coverage
  • Be Impactful with Multimedia – Multimedia is king with around 8 billion images being uploaded daily. News releases now come with images, videos, and even gamified multimedia. Company communications must be packaged in ways that audiences demand.

The news release was a product of necessity and continues to serve as a valuable tool for both communications as well as media professionals. The best method to maximize the outcome of company communications is to follow the guidelines that have dictated public relations for over a century. To learn more about the impact of a well written news release read these articles:

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