press releases

  1. Format: technology provides organizations more control in effectively targeting their publics through multimedia

Historically, press releases were distributed using paper and, later, wire service. Today, most press releases are distributed digitally via the Internet, including distribution via e-mail, website, and social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In.

Since most press releases are digital in format, there are a range of ways that multimedia can be used to more effectively target and attract the desired audience. For instance, press releases can now include descriptive and compelling photographs and videos, as well as hyperlinks to relevant information on the web. The use of SEO keywords to increase the likelihood of a press release popping up on an Internet search is a powerful way to increase the chance that the target audience will find an organization’s press release. For instance, if an art gallery is distributing a press release about an upcoming event, the public relations agency can use keywords associated with the featured artists in the title, which will increase the likelihood of the press release appearing in a Google search of the specific artists.

Ethics and Press Releases Press releases must be transparent and accurate to protect the public from being misled. The only way this can occur is if public relations is held to a high ethical standard.

As television and the Internet matured as forms of news media, the video news release (VNR) was created, and along with them a considerable amount of controversy regarding their ethical nature. Although not news, VNRs look like news stories, with an actor playing the part of a journalist doing a stand-up report. The actors conceal their true role, which serves the client’s purposes but is deceiving for viewers. The viewers have no sense that the report is from a public relations agency rather than from a real news reporter. Broadcast newsrooms that plug VNRs into newscasts leave a false impression that the report is the station’s self-generated reporting of legitimate news. The practice has been targeted by ethicists for its deception, which led to an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The irony of this situation is the VNRs that sparked the controversy leading to Congress revisiting

VNR legislation (and ultimately passing legislation amending the U.S. Communication Act) were on behalf of the U.S. government Medicare program. Essentially, for a press release to be considered ethical, the source of the material must be clearly identified and the content must be completely accurate.

Writing Prompt Apply Your Media Literacy: Public Relations in Context

Look for examples of mass media messages that show how public relations and advertising seek to move people but do it differently and for different purposes. What similarities and differences do you observe? Evaluate the effectiveness of these two approaches and determine which is more effective at winning their audience.

The response entered here will appear in the performance dashboard and can be viewed by your instructor.


8.3 Roots of Public Relations

Study Preview Ivy Led better Lee is considered the founder of public relations. During his lengthy career, Lee represented many large corporations, including those in the manufacturing, railroad, and tobacco industries. While many credit Lee with conceptualizing the “two-way” form of communication (between organizations and key stakeholders), some believe that Lee engaged in more of a propaganda enterprise on behalf of companies that were disliked by the public. Nonetheless, Lee introduced many strategies for communication and relationship-building that remain foundational to modern public relations.

Learning Objectives By the end of this module you will be able to:

  1. 8.3.1 Compare the concerns of populists and social Darwinists in the late 1800s
  2. 8.3.2 Outline the public relations accomplishments of Ivy Lee
  3. 8.3.3 Explain how the two World Wars affected public relations
  4. 8.3.4 Describe public relations responsibilities within an organization

8.3.1 Social Darwinism 1. Objective: Compare the concerns of populists and social Darwinists in the

late 1800s

Nobody would be tempted to think of William Henry Vanderbilt as having been good at public relations. In 1882 when Vanderbilt was president of the New York Central Railroad, he was asked about the effect of changing train schedules on people. He responded: “The public be damned.” Vanderbilt’s utterance so infuriated people that it

became a banner in the populist crusade against robber barons and tycoons in the late 1800s. Under populist pressure, state governments set up agencies to regulate railroads. Then the federal government established the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to control freight and passenger rates. The government also began insisting on safety standards. Labor unions formed in the industries with the worst working conditions, safety records, and pay. Journalists added pressure with powerful exposés on excesses in the railroad, coal, and oil trusts as well as meat-packing industry frauds and patent medicines.

The leaders of industry were slow to recognize the effect of populist objections on their practices. They were comfortable with social Darwinism—an adaptation of Charles Darwin’s survival-of-the-fittest theory. In fact, they thought themselves forward-thinking in applying Darwin’s theory to business and social issues. It had been only a few decades earlier, in 1859, that Darwin presented his biological theory in On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Herbert Spence, a British philosopher, was a powerful advocate of social Darwinism, espousing (through writing and speaking engagements) the merits of applying Darwin’s theory to the social work. Spencer argued that social and economic competition was vital in weeding out the weaker elements of society (the poor, sick, and frail), lest they drag down the rest of society. In fact, Spencer warned against any kind of charity, or attempts to “level the playing field,” cautioning that to do so would place all of society in danger. To cushion the harshness of social Darwinism, many tycoons espoused paternalism toward those whose “fitness” had not brought them fortune and power. No matter how carefully put, paternalism seemed arrogant to the “less fit.”

George Baer, a railroad president, epitomized both social Darwinism and paternalism in commenting on a labor strike: “The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for not by labor agitators but by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of the country.” Baer was quoted widely, further fueling sentiment against big business. Baer may have been sincere, but his position was read as a cover for excessive business practices by barons who assumed superiority to everyone else.

Meanwhile, social Darwinism came under attack as circuitous reasoning: Economic success accomplished by abusive practices could be used to justify further abusive practices, which would lead to further success. Social Darwinism was a dog-eat-dog outlook that hardly jibed with democratic ideals, especially not as described in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, which sought to “promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty” for everyone—not for only the chosen “fittest.” It was these tensions at the turn of the century that set the stage for public relations pioneer Ivy Lee.

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