Meet Ivy L. Lee – the Founder of Modern PR

When you talk about PR greats, you just can’t afford to ignore Ivy L. Lee. He is known as the Founder of Modern Public Relations. While studying at Princeton University he made some contributions to the in-house newspaper. This gained him a lot of appreciation and he also picked up fine skills in writing and journalism.

He worked with the New York American, the New York Times and the New York World as a journalist and was devoted to covering financial and business issues. In 1903, he took his first break in public relations as publicity manager for the Citizens’ Union.

  ivy-ledbetter-lee-642x700In 1904, Lee chartered his own path in PR. He teamed up with George Parker and together they   established Parker and Lee, one of USA’s first public relations firms. The two had worked together prior to this at the Democratic Party headquarters where they handled publicity for Judge Alton Parker’s unsuccessful presidential race against Theodore Roosevelt. The motto of Parker and Lee was “Accuracy, Authenticity and Interest.”

One of the biggest successes that Parker and Lee had was handling crisis management for the Pennsylvania Railroad. In late 1906, the railroad company was stuck in an accident. Lee then went ahead and issued what would be the very first press release. This was done after a great deal of convincing the railroad company to openly disclose information to journalists. It was received well and on 1912 he was hired as the company’s first publicity director.

Lee was a master at handling crisis communication and here is another example of how he managed to salvage a situation that seemed almost futile. In 1914, he had received the biggest opportunity of his career, he was appointed by John D. Rockefeller Jr. to represent his family’s company, the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company following the “Ludlow Massacre.” The infamous massacre resulted after a gun battle between striking miners and Colorado state militia. This left 15 dead including many women and children. The situation spiralled out of control after it sparked a major public outcry and widespread violence in the nearby mining communities. Lee was hired in this troublesome and highly challenging situation to combat the negative press and restore the public image of the family.  He prepared dozens of press releases and reports and pushed them into the media. The result was that the Rockefeller image regained its past glory.

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He had done outstanding work for the Red Cross and this helped it gain the reach it needed amongst people and get a lot of support.  At Bethlehem Steel, he was paid $25000 by the company head Charles M. Schwab for advising his managers to prioritise tasks and then work on this list.  Other notable clients included General Mills and Lucky Strike. He was also an adviser to George Westinghouse, Charles Lindbergh, John W. Davis, Otto Kahn and Walter Chrysler.

Lee’s philosophy of PR could be called the “two-way street” approach where he would not only listen to clients but also work to communicate a public message.  He’s definitely gone down in history as one of the PR greats of all time.

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