Ivy Ledbetter Lee (July 16, 1877 – November 9, 1934) is considered by some to be the founder of modern public relations, although the title could also be held by Edward Bernays. The term Public Relations is to be found for the first time in the 1897 Yearbook of Railway Literature.
Early life and career:
Ivy Lee was born near Cedartown, Georgia as the son of a Methodist minister, James Wideman Lee, who founded an important Atlanta family. He studied at Emory College and then graduated from Princeton. He worked as a newspaper reporter and stringer. Together with George Parker he established the United States's third public relations firm, Parker and Lee, in late 1904. The new agency boasted of "Accuracy, Authenticity, and Interest." They made this partnership after working together in the Democratic Party headquarters handling publicity for Judge Alton Parker's unsuccessful presidential race against Theodore Roosevelt.
The Parker and Lee firm lasted less than four years, but the junior partner — Lee — was to become one of the most influential pioneers in public relations. He evolved his philosophy in 1906 into the Declaration of Principles, the first articulation of the concept that public relations practitioners have a public responsibility that extends beyond obligations to the client. In the same year, after an accident with the Pennsylvania Railroad, Lee issued what is often considered to be the very first press release, convincing the company to openly disclose information to journalists, before they could hear information from elsewhere.
When Lee was hired full time by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1912, he was considered to be the first public relations person placed in an executive-level position. In fact, his archives reveal that he drafted one of the first job descriptions of a VP-level corporate public relations position.
In 1919 he founded the public relations counselling office Ivy Lee & Associates.
Impact on public relations:
In 1914 he was to enter public relations on a much larger scale when he was retained by John D. Rockefeller Jr to represent his family and Standard Oil, ("to burnish the family image"), after the coal mining rebellion in Colorado known as the "Ludlow Massacre". From then on he faithfully served the Rockefellers and their corporate interests, including a strong involvement in Rockefeller Center — he was in fact the first to suggest to Junior (against his reservations) that he give to the complex his family name — even after he moved on to set up his own consulting firm.
He became an inaugural member of the Council on Foreign Relations in the U.S. when it was established in New York City in 1921.
His supposed instruction to the son of the Standard Oil fortune was to echo in public relations henceforth: "Tell the truth, because sooner or later the public will find out anyway. And if the public doesn't like what you are doing, change your policies and bring them into line with what people want". The context of the quote was said to be apocryphal, being spread by Lee as self promotion, making it both famous and infamous.
Lee is considered to be the father of the modern public relations campaign when, from 1913-1914, he successfully lobbied for a successful railroad rate increase from a reluctant federal government.
Lee espoused a philosophy consistent with what has sometimes been called the "two-way street" approach to public relations, in which PR consists of helping clients listen as well as communicate messages to their publics. In practice, however, Lee often engaged in one-way propagandizing on behalf of clients despised by the public. Shortly before his death, the US Congress had been investigating his work in Nazi Germany on behalf of the controversial company IG Farben.
Lee also worked for Bethlehem Steel, in which capacity he famously advised managers to list their top priorities and work on tasks in that order, not proceeding until a task was completed. For this suggestion company head Charles M. Schwab paid him $25,000. Over his career he also was a public relations advisor to the following: George Westinghouse, Charles Lindbergh, John W. Davis, Otto Kahn and Walter Chrysler.
Through his sister Laura, Lee was an uncle to novelist William S. Burroughs.
Ivy Ledbetter Lee died in New York in 1934 at the age of 57.
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