Ivy Lee: A Public Relations Pioneer
The Trailblazer of PR Values
By: Aspen Moreno-Sanchez
When asked to identify an inspiration, I tend to think of someone who has exceeded all expectations. Someone with accomplishments that many will never achieve. I have always aimed for the stars and admire those who have reached their own. Higher aspirations push for excellence and Ivy Lee was the epitome of excellence. Born in 1877, Lee pioneered the public relations world and provided us with many of the methods and understandings that we have today. Though today’s society may view Lee as an innovative mind, his work during his prime was often seen as controversial. Nonetheless, Lee was a moving, influential force. Lee graduated from Princeton University and began his career in New York as a reporter for the New York Times. After gaining the knowledge as a reporter, Lee then became a press representative for coal-mine operators, where his career that we know and admire began.
Ivy Lee and George Parker, began running their own public relations firm, Parker and Lee. Their firm was considered one of the first firms in the nation and had the defining words of “Accuracy, Authenticity, and Interest”. Lee’s time spent with the coal miners and handling their strike paved the way for his method of PR. With the creation of the Declaration Lee built a guideline of principles. A quote from Lee’s Declaration of Principles says, “In brief, our plan is frankly, and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply the press and public of the United States prompt and accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest to the public know about.” Lee’s goal with the Declaration was to differ from others who were avoiding the truth by releasing statements and other news to deter the public from the main issue at hand.
A Commitment to PR Principles
The Declaration of Principles became a staple for PR and influenced many, succeeding in doing so because the moral standards in the document were also followed by its originator. Aside from creating the Declaration of Principles, Lee was determined to stick to those public relations values and execute them within his own work for his clientele. An important and well-known time in history for Lee was his time spent representing the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in 1906. Railroad accidents were common for the time and were typically covered up or simply not discussed at all. Often times, the railroad company would not allow news coverage on the tragic accident and would shy away from releasing any information regarding the incident, but that all changed once Lee became involved. Sticking to his statements made in the Declaration, Lee completely changed how issues were handled within the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Instead of hiding facts and keeping reporters off the site, Lee hosted the press and provided necessary resources for them to obtain the information needed for the public. This was a huge success for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company along with Lee. This new approach gained public approval and praise as they showed compassion and transparency.
Traction from the success of the Pennsylvania Railroad lead Lee to a path of success. He was hired as the publicity director for the company and made history as the first. From then on, Lee gained well-known and important clients including, the American Red Cross and Rockefeller. With his plan for success, Lee appealed to the public and gained new appreciation for the American Red Cross by allowing a flow of open communication and transparency from an organization that had once been lost in the sea of aid organizations. Lee’s time with Rockefeller altered Rockefeller’s image entirely from a once ruthless, money machine to now philanthropist. Lee managed the ultimate reputation control and reconstruct.
Lee trailblazed the art of public relations. His method in a time of secrecy and cutting corners enable a wave of success. Ivy Lee’s methods were a breath of fresh air for his era, clients and society. I admire his courage to embark on an unpaved path and remain loyal to his initial principles. His works still lives today and encourages not only me, but all of PR to remain diligent, to speak the truth and remain an ally to the general public.
About the Author
Aspen Moreno-Sanchez is a recent graduate from the University of North Texas with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a concentration in Public Relations