Ivy Lee

Natalie Fisher

Mass Media in a Free Society

22 July 2011

The Dawn of Public Relations

Public Relations, what exactly is public relations? You hear so many people use that phrase or sometimes they shorten it up to just PR. Public Relations is simply defined by the professional maintenance of a favorable public image by an organization or a famous person. The brains behind all of this can simply be named as Ivy Lee. Many historians credit Lee with being the originator of modern crisis communications. While Ivy Lee had competitors on who takes the founder of Public Relations, Ivy Lee came on top and had a successful life. Throughout this essay you can see the steps that Ivy Lee had taken to live up to the wonderful name as founder of Public Relations.

Ivy Lee was by Cedartown, Georgia on July 16, 1877 as the son of a Methodist minister, James Wideman Lee. His father also founded an important family in Atlanta. Lee got the chance to studied at Emory College. While he was at Emory College he soon transferred to Princeton then graduated from there. After graduation he scored a job as a newspaper reporter and stringer. He was a journalist at many places in New York including: the New York American, the New York Times, and the New York World. He got his first job came upon him in 1903 as a publicity manager for the Citizens’ Union. Soon after that he wrote a book called the Best Administration New York City Ever had. After that chapter in his life, he then took a job with the Democratic National Committee. Lee married Cornelia Bartlett Bigalow in 1901. They had three children: Alice Lee, James Wideman Lee II, and Ivy Lee, Jr.

In 1905 is when things really started changing for Ivy Lee. Ivy Lee scored his third Public Relations firm with George Parker in 1905. This firm established the name “Parker and Lee”. The new company bragged of “Accuracy, Authenticity, and Interest.” They first met while working in the Democratic Party headquarters, then soon became partners. After close to four years of The Parker and Lee firm, Lee who was the junior partner became a top role model in public relations. Lee turned his thoughts and ideas into the Declaration of Principles in 1906. During the same time an accident accrued with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Lee then issued the very first press release. During this press release he convinced the company to open handily spill out information to the press and journalist before it was told anywhere else. In 1912, after this press release he was hired full time at the Pennsylvania Railroad. This was considered to be the first full time executive level position for the public relations field.

At a time when other business man were trying to explain their clients’ activities in ways that were understandable to the public, Lee was realizing some things just couldn’t be explained in a harsh yet honest way. When the Rockefeller family let Lee work for his family, John D. Rockefeller himself had a long and well known reputation that he had built up as a robber baron because he, himself was a robber baron. He and several other well named business man had achieved a great life through success and being wealthy by being rude, not caring, profit-driven businessmen whose actions were often as harsh, arrogant, and uncaring as they were as a person. Their actions could be backed up by there words, but much of it was to far gone for any hope. The public would never have approved of such behavior, especially at times these actions took place. Lee came up with an idea that argued the robber barons’ thoughts and views of the public. Lee ended changing Rockefeller’s behavior, or what it was seen as the company’s horrid behavior. Many conclude that horrid behavior could have been the best public relations ever seen.

First Rockefeller fought to keep his thoughts and views, but Lee’s persistence but him down. At this point, instead of taking over and eliminating Rockefeller, Lee started writing press releases and public statements and arranging special appearances for Rockefeller. Lee soon became Rockefeller’s advisor on public relations. Lee held the company to new advantages of a broad range of business decisions and management policy that was all included by the following: redress workers’ grievances, the selection of new plant sites, setting employee wages and working conditions, and negotiating contracts with suppliers and vendors.

As looking further into Ivy Lee’s life there can be many questions and many people would not agree with his journey. He had a different outlook on the chain of command and many people did not agree with how he moved up or how he pursued public relations. Lee was always concerned about moving forward, while he always tried to have the public’s thought in mind, he consequently always did what he thought was best and what looked appealing to his eye. The insert from Ivy Lee’s Declaration of Principles states clearly how he presented himself, “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 to know about.” As to the point as Lee was, many people could wonder why there was such a ruckus about his views. Many didn’t believe he was out of line, but many did not agree with Ivy Lee.

Whatever you call his approach, Lee had clearly transformed Rockefeller’s public image from that of an uncaring and rude portrait to a warm and caring employer and incredibly generous. As Lee had to die at an early age of 57 due to a brain tumor, to the point but incredible transformations of public relations will never be forgotten. Lee helped shape what public relations is today and brought it to be a great career that is taking over. Many may see his views as a bunch of ruckus, but that ruckus is making many people have a great life with a wonderful job!

Works Cited

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Daguerreotype. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 18 July 2011

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Daguerreotype. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 8 October 2009

Webster. Dictionary.com. http://www.dictonary.com
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8 Responses to Ivy Lee

  1. stephswitzky says:

    Very interesting. I think that we tend to have a negative perception of PR because it can do an effective job of hiding the truth which in turn makes people weary of what truth is. However, as someone who is very critical of the information people put out into the public, I really apprecaite when information is communicated effectively to the public. It is important for someone to take a second look and make sure that what is being said is said well and in a way that can keep the image of the person or organization a positive one.

    • ashley says:

      Yes, ur right we have a negative look on PR’s because they are mainly used to cover peoples stories or events. They are asked to stray the media away from what happened, and for good reason sometimes too if the media posses a threat. But that doesnt nessiccarilly mean that they should have to lie or omit the events with out good reason. There are many “good reasons” but i think many people abuse what they find as good reasons. Ethics are a major factor in PR and many dont have reasonable ethics they get paid and will do whatever they are asked. Thats why they have a bad name, it may not be their ethics but they will do what they are asked.

  2. Yes – the term “PR” seems to always be synonymous with “cover up” and attempting to perform what is commonly known as damage control. This does not mean that lies are told on a person/company’s behalf; rather, the goal of modern PR is to foresee and assess potentially damaging events and actions, and find ways to lessen their negative impact. Ivy Lee is the pioneer of this field, which is arguably one of the most important and influencing fields in big business and celebrity today.

  3. ashley says:

    I didnt know much about PR till chaper 11 in our book and reading this paper, but what i have found is that before early Public Relations many peopl just saw the rich as greed and selfish even if they werent. (although some of them were) Ivy lee was different than the average PR of the day, He didnt make the press go away or tell them lies he simply thought people would respond better if the company or owner just admited what they did wrong and vowed to do better.

    • Yeah – it seems that there are two types of PR these days. There is the big business PR approach, where they attempt to head off negative press by putting the story out (in their own words) before anyone else. Then there is the celebrity PR that attempts to downplay and cover up the truth, or twist it into a he said/she said situation.

  4. ashley says:

    Now that I take another look chapter 11 of the book, I find that Lee was very good at what he did in Public Relations. He let the press in on Rockefellers relation with his company. He set up staged photoshoots with the press, Rockefeller in his overalls and mining hat with the families of the miners. And he suggested to Rockefeller that he allow more attention towards his charity practises.

    After more research I find that after a coal mining rebelion in colorado, known as the “ludlow Massecare” Lee earned his name “poison Ivy” by the newspapers. Upton Sainclair gave this name to him after Lee was trying to distribute bulletens saying that the persons killed in the strike were “were victims of an overturned stove” when in acctuallity they had been shot by the Militia. He had aparentaly been spreading that the women and children who had been killed had been “retreatting from the charging company-backed militia” and had overturned a stove and set fire to themselves, basically saying they had caused their own death with a means of carelessness. I found this interesting, seeing that Lee had previously been pushing comapnies to tell the truth and make changes. But in this case he lead the public to see a different view of the happenings in colorado, while trying to get Rockefeller to publisize his charitable actions. Hence, trying to turn the eyes of the public away from the insident, which was what he was hired for. I think he was rightly given the name founder of PR. He was definently the best and most recognizable and successful at it.

  5. rabovaird80 says:

    This paper got me thinking about the ethical ramifications of the public relations realm. When you think about it, are press releases good or bad for us? It’s no wonder that there’s tension between PR and journalism. Are PR agents acting ethically if they hold back on details regarding the entity they’re representing? It’s all about the spin they put on it.

    Was Lee acting ethically by representing the “robber baron” in a good light? You mentioned Rockefeller and his horrid behavior (it’s been a while since I took US history, so I don’t remember what all he was notorious for… just that he was notorious). It seems like a big paradox. You’ve got this PR guy who’s all about being honest and open about his clients’ public relations, and then you’ve got a client who’s got some notoriety. How could openness and honesty make a shady magnate like Rockefeller look good? It’s kind of like using Ritalin (a stimulant) to treat ADHD. When you think about it, though, it works, just like Lee’s strategies worked for Rockefeller.

    Did reading about Ivy Lee make anyone else think about the Press Secretary for the White House? As long as I’ve been aware of politics, I’ve never trusted the mouthpiece for the President (regardless of his political affiliation). I remember well reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Anyone else remember the pig Squealer and his propaganda? Four legs good, two legs baa-aa-aa-aad.

    • ashley says:

      Ha! i like how you compared PR’s to a stimulent. Well, because thats what they basically are. They counteract what one persons unstable actions has done and turns it around to be stable again. I think that PR’s are really hired by nervous and extreamly paranoid people that just assume they will need someone to help them go through and cover things up, kind of like being a personal thearipset.

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