ivy lee

Who was Ivy Lee, the Publicity Expert?

Last Updated on: 22nd November 2023, 02:36 am

Ivy Lee

Ivy Lee was a renowned publicity expert who made significant contributions to the public relations industry. Born in 1877, Lee was an American who started his career as a newspaper reporter before transitioning to public relations. He is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of modern public relations and is credited with developing the first-ever press release.

Lee’s approach to public relations was based on transparency and honesty. He believed that companies should be open and honest with the public about their operations and that this would ultimately lead to improved public perception. Lee’s most notable client was the Pennsylvania Railroad, which he helped to manage a crisis in 1906. His approach to the crisis, which involved issuing a statement to the press and providing regular updates, became known as the “Ivy Lee Method” and is still used in crisis management today.

ivy lee

Overall, Ivy Lee’s contribution to the public relations industry cannot be overstated. His emphasis on transparency and honesty has become a cornerstone of modern public relations, and his legacy continues to influence the industry today.

Early Life and Career

Methodist Minister’s Son

Ivy Ledbetter Lee was born on July 16, 1877, in Cedartown, Georgia. He was the son of a Methodist minister, James Wideman Lee. James Lee’s work as a minister required the family to move frequently, and Ivy Lee spent much of his childhood in various towns in the American South.

Princeton Education

Lee attended Princeton University, where he studied history and political science. He graduated in 1898 and began working as a newspaper reporter. Lee worked for several newspapers, including the New York Times and the New York World.

Pennsylvania Railroad

In 1903, Lee was hired by the Pennsylvania Railroad as a publicity expert. At the time, the railroad was facing negative publicity due to a number of accidents and labor strikes. Lee’s job was to improve the railroad’s image and reputation.

Ivy Lee’s Declaration of Principles

In 1906, Lee wrote a document called “Declaration of Principles,” which outlined his approach to public relations. The document emphasized honesty, transparency, and open communication. Lee believed that companies should be open and honest with the public, even if the news was bad.

John D. Rockefeller

In 1914, Lee was hired by John D. Rockefeller to improve the image of the Rockefeller family. Rockefeller had been the subject of negative publicity due to his role in the anthracite coal strike and the Ludlow massacre. Lee worked for the Rockefeller family for many years, and his work helped to improve their public image.


Ivy Lee’s early life and career were marked by a commitment to honesty and transparency. His work for the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Rockefeller family helped to establish him as one of the pioneers of modern public relations.

The Father of Modern PR

Ivy Lee is widely regarded as the Father of Modern PR, having revolutionized the field of public relations with his innovative ideas and ethical approach. Lee was a pioneer in the PR industry, and his influence can still be felt in the profession today.

Lee and Rockefeller

One of Lee’s most famous clients was John D. Rockefeller Jr., who hired him to help manage the public image of the Rockefeller family and their businesses. Lee worked closely with Rockefeller to develop a comprehensive PR strategy that included regular press releases, internal magazines, and other communications.

The Power of Lists

Lee was a big believer in the power of lists. He encouraged his clients to make lists of the most important messages they wanted to convey to their audiences, and then to prioritize those messages in order of importance. This approach helped ensure that his clients’ communications were clear, concise, and effective.

Accuracy, Authenticity, and Interest

Lee’s approach to PR was based on three key principles: accuracy, authenticity, and interest. He believed that all communications should be accurate and truthful, that they should reflect the authentic values and personality of the client, and that they should be interesting and engaging to the target audience.

Lee’s Declaration of Principles, which he published in 1906, laid out these principles in more detail and helped establish a code of ethics for the PR industry.


Lee’s legacy in the PR industry is significant. He helped establish PR as a profession in its own right, separate from advertising and journalism. He also helped to create many of the techniques and practices that are still used by PR professionals today, including press releases, crisis communications, and media relations.

Lee’s influence can be seen in the work of other PR pioneers such as Edward Bernays, who was a student of Lee’s, and in the development of the PR industry as a whole. Today, PR is a vital part of many businesses and organizations, and Lee’s contributions to the field are still remembered and celebrated.

Later Life and Legacy

Post-PR Career

After leaving his role as a publicity director, Ivy Lee continued to work in the field of public relations. He founded his own firm, the Ivy Lee & Associates, which would later become Parker and Lee. The firm provided public relations services to a wide range of clients, including General Mills and the Soviet Union.

Ivy Lee and Lucky Strike

One of Lee’s most notable clients was the American Tobacco Company, specifically the Lucky Strike brand. Lee’s work with Lucky Strike involved creating a campaign that positioned cigarettes as a symbol of freedom and rebellion. This campaign helped to make Lucky Strike one of the most popular cigarette brands in the United States.

Death and Impact

In 1934, Ivy Lee was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Despite undergoing surgery to remove the tumor, Lee’s health continued to decline. He passed away on November 9, 1934, at the age of 57.

Ivy Lee’s impact on the field of public relations is still felt today. He is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of modern public relations, having introduced many of the practices that are still used today, such as the press release. Lee’s work with John D. Rockefeller, Sr. also helped to establish the concept of the counseling office, which is now a standard feature of many corporate communications departments.

In addition to his contributions to the field of public relations, Ivy Lee is also remembered for his work as an assistant to the chairman of the Committee on Public Information during World War I. Lee’s efforts to promote the war effort helped to shape public opinion and garner support for the war.

Overall, Ivy Lee’s legacy as an American publicity expert and founder of the public relations service industry continues to be felt today.

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