The History of the Press Release

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The History of the Press Release

Ivy Lee

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.

According 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.

As businesses and organizations began to recognize the power of press releases in managing their public image and sharing crucial information, the use of this tool became increasingly widespread in the early 1900s.

Male Bullhorn

In the 1920s through the 1940s press releases were distributed through mail or telegram, making their way to the desks of journalists at newspapers, radio stations, and other media outlets. These early releases were often written on paper, bearing the iconic words “For Immediate Release” at the top, signaling the urgency and importance of the news they contained.

With the advent of television in the 1950s and 1960s, press releases evolved to incorporate more visual elements, such as photographs and graphics, in an effort to capture the attention of this new and exciting medium.

As technology continued to advance, the 1980s and 1990s saw the introduction of computers and the internet, revolutionizing the way press releases were created, distributed, and published. Electronic distribution allowed for faster and more widespread dissemination of news, making it easier than ever for organizations to reach their target audiences.

In the 21st century, the rise of social media and online platforms has transformed the landscape of press releases once again. Today, releases can be shared instantaneously with a global audience, often incorporating engaging multimedia elements like videos and interactive links.

Despite the many changes and adaptations press releases have undergone throughout history, their fundamental purpose remains unchanged: to communicate important information to the media and the public in a clear, concise, and compelling manner.

The Importance of Press Releases

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 ensure that information is shared correctly about a product, statement of a position, dates and times of an event, etc.

Uses of Press Releases

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.

Let’s Talk!

If you’re not currently using press releases in your marketing and PR strategies, we highly encourage you to talk with one of our professional press release editors. They’re not salespeople, they’re people who spend their days helping companies get their word out easily and effectively. They can share real world ideas and stories that can help you understand how best to use press releases in your business. Contact us here.

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:

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