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The History of the Press Release

The Origin of the Press Release and Its Importance to Public Relations

Have you ever heard the story of how a young man named Ivy Lee responded to a tragedy that took the lives of more than 50 people and used it to create what would become a mainstay of any public relations effort? Don’t worry if you haven’t. The truth is that most public relations practitioners haven’t either.

Ivy LeeAccording to public relations lore, the press release was born following a train wreck on October 28, 1906, in Atlantic City, N.J., that left more than 50 people dead.

The train was owned by Pennsylvania Railroad, one of Ivy Lee’s clients. In response to the disaster, he convinced the railroad to issue a statement about what had transpired. In doing so, he set in motion a practice for companies to address issues important to them, or, in the case of the railroad, to offer an explanation of what had happened. The New York Times was said to have been so impressed by Lee’s release that the newspaper printed it exactly as Lee had written it. Although it’s rare for media outlets to use press releases verbatim these days, they still often act as a starting point for a journalist to create a story.

When Ivy Lee created what is widely believed to be the first press release, he established an invaluable component to any public relations campaign. The times and technology may have changed, but there are several things a press release can accomplish that make its use as relevant today as when Lee was alive:

  • A press release can quickly and effectively share information about an event, product, campaign promise, meeting, or host of other events – any situation in which the same information needs to reach everyone.
  • A press release provides an opportunity for you to share your take on why a product is special, respond to claims made by others, explain why your organization is important, etc., rather than only allowing others to define you.
  • A press release offers the best opportunity for you to guarantee that information about a product, statement of a position, dates and times of an event, etc., are shared correctly with the public.

More than 100 years after Lee’s innovation, press releases remain an important tool for attracting the attention of the news media to a newsworthy item of information. Also known as news releases or media releases, press releases are documents in a specific format and are now used for a variety of purposes that include:

  1. Providing news in situations when a company needs to address an issue, respond to a crisis, and/or share general information.
  2. Announcements by individuals intending to seek elected office or responses by candidates to allegations made against them.
  3. A company announcing a new or improved product/service.
  4. A company announcing a boom in sales or response to accusations against them.
  5. The sharing of data, statistics, tips, trends, perspectives or other pertinent information that would be of interest to a particular industry.
  6. The announcement of a press conference or an upcoming event.
  7. An author or publisher sharing information about the release of a new book.
  8. Information from artists sharing news about their latest album, movie, showing, etc.

This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. Download your free copy of 7 Cheap PR Tactics for Success in Any Economy here:

Click here to Download the PR Checklist We've Used to Generate Over $23.7 Million in Media Coverage for our Clients

14 Responses

  1. BrittanyElder says:

    RT @ereleases: New blog post: The History of the Press Release

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by BrittanyElder: RT @ereleases: New blog post: The History of the Press Release

  3. John G. Marshall says:

    Ivy Lee was more than a public relations expert working for the Pennsylvania Railroad. He was consulted by top management on many decisions relating to operations. The Ivy Lee papers are part of the Princeton University library collection and additional correspondence can be found in the PRR files at Hagley Museum and Library and the Pennsylvania State Archives.

  4. Joe @ CGPR says:

    The above information was apparently forgotten by Toyota during their delayed response to news media coverage of uncontrollable vehicles. Perhaps the automobile industry has replaced the railroads as the industry with the most to gain from a change in public relations practices.

  5. […] 31 Public Relations Definitions (Fab blog post) Wikipedia has a useful, well referenced article Find out about the world’s first press release […]

  6. […] speechwriting workshops and speeches aren’t new; people learn to write news releases and the news release is more than a century old. And while this may be a “learning experience” for Silverman, ConAgra, and Ketchum, I […]

  7. Russ Hudson says:

    Awesome article, but could you possibly include some sources here? I’d like to research information on the actual press release submitted by PA RR to the NY Times and write an article about the comparison of the original format and today’s press release format. thank you


  8. […] Truth be told, I didn’t see any value to a tool that was born out of disaster. […]

  9. Lamus says:

    Extraordinary! Thanks a whole lot! We continuously desired to write on my modest internet website some thing like that.

  10. […] is conjecture or the opinionating of random individuals. In fact, that was exactly the reason for the first news release, which was written in 1906 to deliver an organized response to a Pennsylvania Railroad train wreck […]

  11. […] messages and information about certain product, campaign, events and more. You may read on the history of of press release to gain a clear know how about […]

  12. […] Kennedy, M. (2010, March 29). The history of the press release. PR Fuel: PR News, Views, & Stews. Retrieved February 28, 2015 from: […]

  13. […] train, to cover up the incident. This is exactly what might have happened had it not been for Ivy Lee, an early public relations practitioner hired by the company to build a better public image. He saw […]

  14. […] train, to cover up the incident. This is exactly what might have happened had it not been for Ivy Lee, an early public relations practitioner hired by the company to build a better public image. He saw […]

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