One of the basic tools of public relations – the press release – is 113 years old. The very first press release was published, word for word, by The New York Times on October 29, 1906.
Public relations pioneer Ivy Lee wrote the press release for his client, the Pennsylvania Railroad, after a train disaster that killed more than 50 people near Atlantic City. Lee’s crisis communications work in this case supports several of the key tenets we teach today in Mower Media Training, including:
- If you have bad news that you know is going to get covered, get all the details out first and take your lumps in one shot.
- Facts are your friends. They fill space that rumors and false information might otherwise occupy. Provide as much detail as possible about what is known.
- Cooperate with investigators and make it clear you are working to find an answer in order to fix the problem, so a reoccurrence can be avoided.
It’s important to note that while they made history, Lee and the railroad did violate one of the cardinal rules of crisis communications by speculating about the cause of the accident. And it turns out they were wrong. It was not a malfunction of one of the new electric train cars, which could not be inspected because they were still underwater. The cause was a defect in the operation of the draw bridge, which investigators discovered during later testing.
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