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While attending Princeton University, Ivy Lee participated in the school newspaper. Using these skills as a journalist he found his way into newspaper writing, as most public relations specialists first do.
He worked for the New York American, the New York Times and the New York World writing mostly about financial and business issues. In 1903 he took his first step toward public relations by landing a job as publicity manager for the Citizens' Union. He authored a textbook entitled The Best Administration New York City Ever Had and then accepted a press job with the Democratic National Committee.
In 1905 partnering with a collegue from the DNC, George Parker, they agreed to form their own public relations firm, Parker and Lee. He then published his "Declaration of Principles," which focused on giving factual information to the public. Then in 1906 he came to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad company, which at that time was under public scrutiny for denying information and interviews to reporters.
At once, Lee decided to update reporters on business matters and take them to the accident sites. Later he became the executive assistant to the president of Pennsylvania Railroad, which gave him notoriety. From this exposure John D. Rockefeller, Jr. asked for Lee's help in controlling the media during the strikes at the Colorado Fuel and Oil Company. Shortly there after he accepted a position on the personal advisory staff of John D. Rockefeller, Sr in 1915.
With a longtime interest in Russia, Lee decided to use his skills to campaign for the Soviet Union. He thought that if he could establish a commercial trade link between the U.S. and Soviet Union that it would open the lines of communication and squash its turmoil. This only created accusations of Lee being a Russian propagandaist, which never proved to be true. Other controversy stirred when he did consulting work for I.G. Farben Industries of Germany and was accused of being a Nazi advocate.
Lee started a revolution to inform the public on private interests by providing facts so the public could better understand the policies and routines of American corporations. "You suddenly find you are not running a private business, but you are running a business of which the public itself is taking complete supervision," said Lee.
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