More than 100 years ago, Ivy Lee was creating PR history with theories and practices. One of the duties he and other early PR pros were tasked with doing was relaying news and announcements. The job called for press releases, once they were invented in 1906. Releases were then distributed (via mail, mostly) and results measured. It is a mistake, however, to assume PR pros did all these things alone.
Though PR service companies are underrepresented in our industry’s history, they are responsible for much innovation in the sector. In fact, a few services companies date back to the late 1800s. Let’s look at some of the people behind these successful businesses that helped shape PR.
Media Monitoring Before It Was Cool
In 1888, Frank Burrelle overheard several Wall Street execs complain that they lacked time to keep up with the news, even though it was very important for their work. Inspired, Burrelle leaned over and told the businessmen that he would monitor the news for them.
Burrelle’s Press Clipping Bureau was started with Frank, his wife Nellie, and their friends clipping articles at a kitchen table before delivering them to clients. Meanwhile, in the same year, Robert Luce quit his job at The Boston Globeto focus on Luce Press Clippings, which he started with his brother, Linn.
Adapting to the Times
After Frank and Nellie Burrelle passed in the 1920s, family friends—the Wynnes—took over to keep the business alive, eventually moving the company in 1956 to a large office space in New Jersey. Burrelles successfully shaped itself to meet advancements in media and technology—and that is just one reason why it has stayed relevant, reliable and resourceful since it was founded. In 2003, Burrelles merged with Luce to enhance its media-monitoring services.
Today, the company offers a variety of monitoring and analysis tools. As its president, Cathy Del Colle, says, “We are not just the ‘clipping people;’ we’re the ‘media monitoring company.’”
Through the Wires
In 1954, Herb Muschel stared at lined-up cabs outside of an office in NYC. He realized that PR pros needed an easier, faster way to distribute press releases.
That year, he started PR Newswire out of his townhouse basement in Midtown East. The makeshift home office boasted 12 teletype machines, with real people operating them. Herb’s wife, Dolly, graciously fed the staff. Their work resulted in distribution of press releases simultaneously from agencies to major media sources at 60 words per minute—a huge development at the time.
Muschel sparked a wave of press release distribution services without realizing it. In 1958. Stanley H. Brams started Press Relations Newswire in Detroit, with Muschel’s blessing after meeting with him in New York.
“We can have same-day news in Detroit now!” Herb said at the time to Stanley, according to his son, Jim Brams. The company opened four branches in Detroit, D.C., Cleveland and Atlanta—which ultimately were sold to PR Newswire in 1985, landing Jim as one of three VPs with the company for more than a decade.
The newswire trend continued in 1961 when Lorry Lokey started Businesswire in San Francisco, creating a harmonious rivalry and the only true competitor to PR Newswire.
A ‘Most-Wanted’ Wire
In the late 1970s, Larry Moskowitz started Mediawire in Philadelphia, after accumulating a handful of clients, including the FBI, which used his services to distribute its famous “Most Wanted” lists.
Moskowitz ended up selling the company to PR Newswire, then joined the team as EVP, from 1983-86. Eventually, Moskowitz started Medialink Worldwide, which promoted the evolution of satellite technology in media and was the first and only PR service to go public.
Muschel sold PR Newswire to Western Union in 1971, and it has since gone through a generous number of sales and acquisitions. Today, the company finds its home at Cision (as of 2015). It has 35 offices around the world, with its global network reaching upward of 10,000 websites, portals, databases—and 3,000 newsrooms daily.
The Future of PR Services
While the role of the PR pro has been translated many times over, one thing is clear: the relationship between communicators and PR services remains strong, positive and mutually beneficial.
Says IPR trustee and PRNEWS columnist Mark Weiner: “As PR evolves, so do the services. The technological advancements and innovation in PR come from” them. They “recognized technological applications that were developed elsewhere and applied them to PR. Now, as the business shifts...they’re helping PR people keep up...and stay agile.”
What would Ivy Lee think of how fast a press release is distributed today? Would Frank Burrelle or Robert Luce have imagined their media-monitoring companies becoming so successful and long-standing, eventually merging? We can’t say for sure—but we are fairly certain they would be happy to still be remembered. They’d also probably be amazed at how much technology has advanced and the growth of PR.
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