This post is part of a series written by zcomm interns. Be sure to check back each week for their take on the latest in the public relations industry. This week, Hailey takes a look back at the history of the press release.
On March 21, Twitter celebrated its sixth birthday. Although this social media tool has become an important part of public relations, we can’t forget about the oldest trick of the trade, the press release. This year marks its 106th birthday, making it an entire century older than Twitter.
The first press release was written in 1906 following an Oct. 28 train wreck in Atlantic City, N.J., that killed more than 50 people. To prevent the spread of rumors, Ivy Lee convinced the Pennsylvania Railroad to issue a statement outlining all the facts of the accident.
His written description of the Who, What, Where, When and How was so useful, the New York Times was said to have printed his statement as is. The concept stuck, and the press release has been an integral part of the public relations industry ever since.
During the 106 years that have passed since Lee birthed the press release, it has seen some changes. Thanks to technology, it’s changed for the better.
Today the internet is used to distribute most press releases, but how did it work before? Back in the day, there was this thing called a telex machine that sent text-based messages, but very slowly. Here’s a video of one in action. I’ve honestly never even heard of this contraption until today.
There was also the option of snail mail. I can’t even begin to imagine what a grueling process that must have been. This may come as a surprise to some people, but at 23 years old, I have never purchased a stamp. I’m sure others my age could say the same.
And then came the fax machine, which didn’t even become popular until the 1980s. Although I don’t actually know how to use one, I’ve been assured that it is definitely faster than the telex.
While faxing is still common, the internet is the handiest tool for public relations professionals today. Not only does it make distribution easier, it also enhances the press release itself. Thanks to the internet, we have the ability to make press releases interactive by incorporating links, photographs and videos. Press releases can also help boost SEO, which wasn’t even a concern until fairly recently.
Whether it’s called a press release, news release or social media release, it’s still one of the most valuable tools in public relations today. So thank you, Ivy Lee, for your intelligence and initiative. Little did you know it, but 106 years ago you gave birth to the press release.