In my previous blog an estimation was shared that 5.84 million press releases get issued annually across the world. So when was this workhorse of the communications world invented and by whom? What is the story behind the storytelling tool?

Over a hundred years ago on October 28, 1906 a major train accident took place in Atlantic city, New Jersey, USA. An electric train operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad de-railed off a drawbridge and fell into a creek, tragically drowning 53 people.   Ivy Ledbetter Lee,  a long time journalist who had set up one of the world’s first PR firms ( Parker & Lee ) in 1905, was serving as an advisor to the Pennsylvania Railroad. Historically rail crashes had been handled very opaquely with minimum communications from the concerned companies and it was left to journalists, word of mouth and rumor to spread the story. Ivy Lee convinced Pennsylvania Railroad to take an innovative step and distribute a formal statement, so that a coherent set of facts were available to them. He also stunned the media world by another first – the railroad ran a special train only for journalists to get them to the site of the accident and report on it quickly.

This path-breaking first press release received wide acclaim from the media and wider public, with the railroad being praised for being transparent and honorable – in very tragic circumstances. The New York Times was so taken by this innovative approach that they produced the statement verbatim in their 30th October edition. An image of that is included below and can be sourced from the NYT archives here.

Since this humble origin, the volume of press releases has proliferated across the globe – growing at 15.83% year on year throughout the last century to hit the 5.84 million annual mark today. Inspite of the century that has passed, the core principle behind this cogent history of the press release – “Tell your own story First, Fast and Fair “ still applies more than ever  in today’s world. Ivy lee can rest in peace that his legacy has more than met the test of time.

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