Businesswire commemorates 100th anniversary of the news release

Businesswire has put out a news release announcing it is holding a series of events at its domestic (that’s American to most of the world) offices commemorating the 100th anniversary of Ivy Lee’s first press release.

Except the news/press release is rather sloppily written and goes on to say “Business Wire conferences will pay homage to the 100th anniversary of the press release.”

Hang on a moment guys, which is it? I can accept that Ivy Lee (one of the founders of modern public relations) put out his first press release in 1906 but it is a bit of a stretch to claim it as the 100th anniversary of the press release and how can it also be “the 100th anniversary of the public relations industry.”

I don’t have sources at hand (and don’t have time to Windows Live Search – read this to see why no more Google), but from memory what about:

  • Some book about American railways published in the late 1890s which is meant to be the first documented use of the term public relations
  • Jesse James used the media to bolster his reputation as a brave ex-Confederate guerilla, rather than a desperate outlaw – on several occasions he left ‘press releases’ behind at the scenes of his robberies
  • I’ve always thought of Edward Bernays as the ‘founder’ of modern public relations, rather than Ivy Lee

It needs one of the blogging PR academics to put some flesh on these old bones.

Thanks to bitemarks for the tip-off about the anniversary.


8 Replies to “Businesswire commemorates 100th anniversary of the news release

  1. Just when is a press release a press release? Is a press statement a press release? Can anything published online be constituted as a press release? Many journalists now happily concede that they do most of their hunting online and happily recycle celebrity quotes and other information from the most trusted sources – ie BBC, Telelgraph and New York Times.

    This led me to consider probably the most famous press release in British history which I repeat below. It's Lord Admiral Collingwood's Despatch to the Admirality after the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Lord Nelson.

    The defeat of the the French and Spanish fleet off Cap Trafalgar changed the face of Europe and ensured a British Empire. Without it Napoleon Bonapart – a dictator and the Hitler of his day – would have dominated Europe and he may never have met his Waterloo.

    Anyway I digress. Here is a pared down version of Collingwood's dispatch – sorry it’s so long Stuart but it beats Ivy Lee’s for the quality of the writing:

    Euryalus, off Cape Trafalgar, Oct. 22, 1805.
    The ever-to-be lamented death of Vice-Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, who, in the late conflict with the enemy, fell in the hour of victory, leaves to me the duty of informing my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that on the 19th instant, it was communicated to the Commander in Chief, from the ships watching the motions of the enemy in Cadiz, that the Combined Fleet had put to sea; as they sailed with light winds westerly, his Lordship concluded their destination was the Mediterranean, and immediately made all sail for the Streights' entrance, with the British Squadron, consisting of twenty-seven ships, three of them sixtyfours, where his Lordship was informed, by Captain Blackwood (whose vigilance in watching, and giving notice of the enemy's movements, has been highly meritorious), that they had not yet passed the Streights…

    As the mode of our attack had been previously determined on, and communicated to the Flag-Officers, and Captains, few signals were necessary, and none were made, except to direct close order as the line bore down.
    The Commander in Chief, in the Victory, led the weather column, and the Royal Sovereign, which bore my flag, the lee. The action began at twelve o'clock, by the leading ships breaking through the enemy's line, the Commander in Chief about the tenth ship from the van, the Second in Command about the twelfth from the rear, leaving the van of the enemy unoccupied; the succeeding ships breaking through in all parts, astern of the leaders, and engaging the enemy at the muzzles of their guns; the conflict was severe; the enemy's ships were fought with a gallantry highly honourable to their Officers; but the attack on them was irresistible, and it pleased the Almighty Disposer of all events to grant his Majesty's arms a complete and glorious victory…

    Such a battle could not be fought without sustaining a great loss men. I have not only to lament in common with the British Navy, and the British Nation, in the Fall of the Commander in Chief, the loss of a Hero, whose name will be immortal, and his memory ever dear to his country; but my heart is rent with the most poignant grief for the death of a friend, to whom, by many years intimacy, and a perfect knowledge of the virtues of his mind, which inspired ideas superior to the common race of men, I was bound by the strongest ties of affection; a grief to which even the glorious occasion in which he fell, does not bring the consolation which, perhaps, it ought: his Lordship received a musket ball in his left breast, about the middle of the action, and sent an Officer to me with his last farewell; and soon after expired.
    I have also to lament the loss of those excellent Officers, Captains Duff, of the Mars, and Cooke, of the Bellerophon; I have yet heard of none others.
    I fear the numbers that have fallen will be found very great, when the returns come to me; but it having blown a gale of wind ever since the action, I have not yet had it in my powers to collect any reports from the ships.
    Having thus detailed the proceeding of the fleet on this occasion, I beg to congratulate their Lordships on a victory which, I hope, will add a ray to the glory of his Majesty's crown, and be attended with public benefit to our country, I am, &c.
    (Signed) C. COLLINGWOOD.

    It was publsihed in full on the front page of the London Gazette Extraordinary – a special edition rushed out as soon as Collingwood's dispatches reached the Admiralty aboard HMS Pickle.

    Every other newspaper in the country carried it too as editions of the Gazette were sent out to Bath, Bristol and Liverpool. But I wonder did Collingwood realise he was Nelson's Chief Public Relations Adviser when he wrote this and set the Nelson legend in motion.

  2. The US textbook, Effective Public Relations by Cutlip, Center & Broom (2000, p. 110) puts the date of the first recorded use of the term public relations as 1897. They quote one of the objectives of the American Association of Railroads 1897 Yearbook of Railway Literature as being "to put annually in permananent form all papers or addresses on the public relations of railways, appearing or being delivered during the year, which seem to have enduring value."

    So they're a bit late for the 100th anniversary.

  3. I'm speaking at one of their events this afternoon — including addressing the "birth" date. Will post my remarks on my blog when I get back from Atlanta.

  4. Thank you Ian, that's the one I was racking my brains for and just couldn't remember – for some reason I'd confused it with Waterloo. I also like the Calisthenes from the Green PR, PR Greats.

  5. Here are some notes I will use when talking to new frst years about where PR came from…

    When did PR begin? Jesus using disciples etc?
    Carrying colours into battle as corporate identity?
    Boston Tea Party?

    If we define PR as ‘relations with public’ it seems that PR has been around forever, so what we are really asking is when did people start to call it PR.Grunig and Hunt (1984:27-41) also suggested five stages of development:
    • The public be fooled
    • “The public be damned”
    • Public Information
    • Propaganda and Persuasion
    • Public understanding

    Starting with Press agent:
    • When might this have started?
    • Clearly need a press to be a press agent….
    • Industrial expansion/ competition etc

    The public be fooled…
    Early exponent was PT Barnum. Started own newspaper – The Herald of Freedom, jailed for 60 days for libel. First exhibition featured Joice Heth, supposedly 160-yr-old slave of George Washington (partially paralysed, blind, no teeth) (Cutlipp 1995:171)

    Straightaway we start to realise there is not one history of PR but many histories. Many textbooks tell a primarily American story but that is changing, but the work of people like Jacquie L’Etang is developing a UK perspective which rather different to the US model.

    First use of term press agent 1868 WW Duran on roster of John Robinson’s Circus and Menagerie
    Buffalo Bill Cody – invented history etc

    Harrison (2000: 17) makes link to Max Clifford: “Consultants such as MC take on clients with the express intention of making them famous… There is still a thriving market for public-fooling press today.”

    In UK 1881: Grocer Thomas Lipton – the world’s largest cheese (made in US) delivered to his Glasgow store

    The role of public relations today has its antecedents in the publicity of the railroads in the C19 that was produced to promote passenger traffic in pursuit of the railroads marketing programs (Cutlipp 1995:xiii)

    (Can argue that public service played a much more influential role in development in UK).

    The railroad were confronted with a public relations problem from the start. Canal and river carriers, stagecoach lines and wagoners fought the coming of railroads as the railroads later fought the highway trucks and airplanes (Cutlipp 1995: 144)

    Railroads – with circuses and patent medicines – first to use advertising.

    Guidebooks were a prime (PR) medium to urge settlers westward: “Many were unabashedly fraudulent.”

    (Facility trips): On July 14, 1868 a party of ‘editorial gentlemen’ left NYC for a tour over the Union Pacific line. The trip ‘made the UP very real through the pens of these newsmen’.

    “The public be damned”
    Credited to William Vanderbilt of New York Central Railroad.
    In general the late C19 captains of industry had scant regard for public opinion: big business tended to believe that ‘the less people knew of its operations the more efficient and profitable … the operations would be.” (Goldman 1848:3, quoted in Cutlipp:19)

    C19 US straightforward bribery in the form of payment to newspapers for favourable coverage (Cutlipp)

    Driven by competition for customers

    Term public relations used for first time in 1882 by Dorman Eaton addressing Yale Law School on the Public Relations and Duties of the Legal Professions (Harrison 2000:17)

    Public information
    When did this start? When had public services!
    ie in UK 1809 first press officer – British Treasury

    1904: Ivy Ledbetter Lee investigative journalist working in New York started to ask whether businesses’s policy of secrecy was a good one. Opened a PR agency with press agent George Parker. Split four years later, Lee went on, taking on clients such as railroad companies, anthracite, mines, oil.

    Formulated his Declaration of Principles
    It begins:
    “This is not a secret press bureau. All our work is done in the open.”
    (Full text in Harrison 2000:21)

    Lee felt that if the public could see both sides of the story they would be in a better position to make up their minds as to what had happened. By demonstrating to his clients that a policy of openness was more desirable, Lee prospered and the public became better informed (Harrison 2000:21)

    Propaganda and persuasion
    In WW1 propaganda had been used first in Britain and then in America to convince the public of the necessity of military action on a scale never before witnessed (2000:22).
    Lord Kitchener: Your country needs you!

    1919 Edward Bernays sets up consultancy with wife to help with re-employment of ex-servicemen.
    Nephew of Sigmund Freud (and so related to Matthew Freud!).

    Early client included the American Tobacco Company which had slogan “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet” (smoking helps you slim). Bernays organised Easter Parade, Fifth Avenue, fashionable young women smoking ‘Torches of Freedom’ (in part to break down resistance of women to smoking outdoors).

    Hotels urged to put cigarettes on sweet menus, kitchen designers urged to include cupboard space for cigarettes.

    Seldom mentioned that ATC behind his work.

    (1950s research links smoking with cancer. Hill & Knowlton help set up The Tobacco Institute, designed to mislead and confuse smokers).

    In 1923 wrote Crystalising Public Opinion, suggested role of PR counsel was ‘to advise his clients how positive results can be accomplished in the field of PR and to keep them from drifting into unfortunate and harmful situations’.

    In Propaganda (1928: 37) Bernays writes: The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

    UK experience

    UK: 1924 The Empire Marketing Board – Sir Stephen Tallents – spent millions on posters films exhibitions to get people to buy Empire good

    1930/31: 44 press/ publicity offices in 2 govt depts (16 of them went on to form IPR in 1948
    In a 1932 pamphlet The Projection of England, Sir Stephen Tallents wrote of the need "to support British economic aims through the promotion of culture, technology and science and an enhanced sense of nationality and core values".

  6. To illustrate the point about Calisthenes

    At GREEN we believe him to be the first public relations practitioner

    Without him his client would have probably been known as Alexander, the extremely able general.
    Calisthenes was responsible for telling the story about Alexander, his personal strengths, feats and conquests. Michael Wood, the historian in his ‘In the Search of Alexander the Great’ describes Calisthenes as a propagandist. He is fundamentally wrong. If we describe propaganda as a one way method of communication, like the Jesuits did, Calisthenes clearly engaged in two-way communication between his master and his audiences. Sadly, Calisthenes died for his profession.
    Following Alexander’s Eastern exploits, conquering lands as far afield as India, Alexander took to adopting the Eastern rulers practices of being worshipped as a God. (Yes, we’ve had some clients like that!)
    As a subject you had to throw yourself at the mercy of the ruler. Calisthenes did not think this was a wise move for Alexander. His long-term power base could be undermined by such extremes. Being the public relations practitioner he was, he offered his client truthful advice and counsel.
    Alexander didn’t take kindly to this and had Calisthenes slain.
    Thanks to Calisthenes the legend of Alexander ‘the Great’ lives on.

  7. Interesting stuff there by Phillip, but very US centred. (centered?)

    I'll just put in a plug for my colleague Jacquie L'Etang and her book "Public Relations in Britain: A History of Professional Practice in the Twentieth Century", essential reading for anyone wanting to get a UK perspective on the history of public relations.

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