Crisis Management: The Historic Relationship between Ivy Lee & John D. Rockefeller

Who does one go to for public relations advice in 1906? John D. Rockefeller turned, of course, to early practitioner, and considered to most, the founder of public relations - Ivy Lee. Public relations first became a profession when Lee took it upon himself to look into Rockefeller’s coal mines, as well as the Pennsylvania Railroad in the early 1900’s. The railroad was coming into scrutiny from regulators, politicians, journalists and the general public and a change of attitude was needed. That’s exactly what Lee had brought to the table. 

When the miners went on strike, Lee exemplified some early PR tactics by “listening to the complaints of the miners, improved their conditions, danced with their wives, and became a hero to the miners.” Lee crafted his press releases with exceptional care and advised PRR officials to provide reporters with access to the New York improvements under controlled conditions. Lee gave reporters tours of underground tunnels - the first time ever any reporter was permitted underground. He exemplified his well known public relations principles of telling the truth and providing accurate facts when the Pennsylvania Railroad first achieved its favorable press coverage.