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The History of the Press Release and Why It’s So Important

by Gary Prendiville

public relations

Nothing is more ubiquitous in today’s public relations industry than the press release. The BIGteam has spent countless hours over the past 18 years drafting, revising and approving press releases on behalf of our clients. For such a staple tool in communications, many are still unaware of how the press release became so important. Although it may seem like it was created by a university professor, the history and conception of the first press release is actually quite spontaneous.

Photo courtesy: Museum of Public Relations

On a sunny day in 1906, a Pennsylvania Railroad train unexpectedly derailed, resulting in the deaths of 50 out of the 87 passengers onboard. When a company endures a catastrophic event like this, it’s hard to regain trust and loyalty from the general public. Luckily, Ivy Lee, the PR representative of the Pennsylvania Railroad, knew what do. Lee recognized the importance of getting the truth out as soon as possible before rumors started to fly. Being a former New York Times reporter himself, he knew how intensely the media would cover this story.

Lee sought to ensure that everything reported about his company’s tragedy was accurate. To do so, he convinced the Pennsylvania Railroad to send out an official “release” written by himself to the The New York Times detailing everything that happened (pictured left).

The Times was so impressed with this new way of conveying information about an event that they published Lee’s statement word-for-word. Other competing railroad and oil companies were also amazed by Lee’s professionalism and hired him to do their PR work and crisis management moving forward.

Fast forward to today, press releases are now one of the most controlled ways for a company to communicate their news to the the public. Relying on hard facts, the press release has become a trusted source of receiving news. Building on the initial work of Lee, publicists everywhere have come to rely on the press release as their key tool in communicating client announcements. Whether it’s for a new product launch or breaking company news, the BIGteam understands the importance of getting your information out there correctly and effectively to as many people as possible (check out our comparison of Businesswire vs. PRWeb for more information on the press release services out there!).

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