History of the Press Release
Many of us are familiar with press releases, and have even written a few. But how did the media release begin, and when? Unfortunately, it appears the press release was born out of tragedy.
While not absolutely certain, it is believed the first press statement was created after a train wreck on October 28, 1906, in Atlantic City, N.J. Over 50 people lost their lives in the devastating wreck, in which a three-car train jumped a trestle and plunged into the Thoroughfare Creek. In response to the disaster, a man named Ivy Lee convinced Pennsylvania Railroad to issue a statement about what happened that day. Ivy Lee was the co-founder of Parker and Lee, the nation’s third public relations firm, and Pennsylvania Railroad was one of their clients. His idea was that the company should directly and openly explain to journalists what had happened, before they could hear information from anywhere else. Lee also convinced the railroad to provide a special train to take journalists and photographers to the scene of the accident, thus furthering open communication with the media.
The New York Times was so impressed by the statement Lee had written, the newspaper printed it verbatim on October 30th. In the following weeks, Pennsylvania Railroad was praised for their openness and honesty with the press. Thus began the practice of companies addressing issues they felt were important for people to know about, like what had transpired the day of the railroad accident.
While news releases have changed over the years, there are some aspects that remain the same today as it did 100 years ago. A press statement can quickly and effectively share information that should reach a large number of people, such as information about an event, product, campaign, or meeting. A press release can also provide an opportunity to share the company’s perspective on a new product or service, and respond to claims or comments made by others. In addition, meida releases offer an opportunity to ensure correct information about your product, service, etc., is shared with the public. This way, a company can relay information from their perspective, clearing up misconceptions and explain their company’s goings-on in their point of view.
So what exactly IS a press release?
A press release is defined as “a written statement about a matter of public interest which is given to the press by an organization concerned with the matter.” The press releases are usually sent to newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, and other media outlets. While they were typically printed statements in the past, today they can be audio or video, which are either recorded live, or pre-recorded.
Here is a list of situations in which a company or organization might choose to issue a media release:
• To provide news in a situation when a company needs to address an issue, respond to a crisis, or share general information.
• When announcing an individual’s intention to run for election, or to address responses by candidates when allegations are made against them.
• To announce a company’s boom in sales, any awards received, or to respond to accusations a competitor or consumer has against them.
• To share data, statistics, tips, trends, perspectives or other pertinent information that would be of interest to a particular industry.
• When a company would like to announce a new or improved product or service that is being released.
• When announcing information regarding a press conference or upcoming event.
• For an author or publisher to share information about the release of a new book.
• To announce information from artists to share news about their latest album, movie, showing, etc.
From print to radio to television, press releases have found their latest medium with the Internet. However, the traditional press release has undergone some changes in order to be properly found by news search engines. This latest form of a press release is known as SEO PR or search engine promotion, among other names. These news releases are written specifically for search engine optimization. However, like anything new, there are those who oppose this new form of press releases, stating that it’s just hype or some unethical companies may try to disguise ads as press releases.
Only time will tell if SEO PR will take off or if the press release will evolve into yet another form. Regardless, after surviving over 100 years, the press release, in one form or another, will likely stick around.