NEW YORK: A new exhibit by The New York Transit Museum highlights PR's earliest days.
The exhibit showcases how PR legend Ivy Lee promoted the New York subway system from 1916 to 1932.
It features mainly a poster series, beginning in 1918, that appeared in subway cars and spoke directly to riders. The posters, called The Subway Sun and The Elevated Express (for the elevated lines), were made to appear like a newspaper front page.
They addressed issues such as public safety, system improvements, and subway etiquette (from 1918: "To avoid spread of Spanish influenza, sneeze, cough or expectorate [if you must] in your handkerchief").
The PR work also used pamphlets and brochures. Charles Sachs, senior curator of the museum, said Lee's papers include press releases he wrote for the subway system. But, in putting together the exhibit, which is at the museum's annex in Grand Central Terminal through October 24, he decided to focus on the posters because "this body of direct communications is so striking."
Sachs was scheduled to give a lecture about Lee's PR work for the IRT at the museum's main building in Brooklyn on Saturday, August 21.
Lee was hired by the subway, then the privately owned Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT), as it entered its second decade of operation. The IRT was expanding its lines just as it was facing competition from a rival. "I think part of [the PR campaign] was to maintain customer loyalty," Sachs said.
In 1916 Lee was already known as one of the leaders in the new PR field. A former newsman, he created Parker & Lee in 1905 and Ivy Lee & Associates in 1916.
His clients included Chrysler, Western Union Telegraph, and the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Lee had a particular approach to PR. In 1906, he published his "Declaration of Principles," which promoted "fact-based constructive publicity - which he saw as different from news, advertising, and propaganda.
A 1921 Elevated Express issue in the exhibit declares "Stick a pin right here: - Every statement of fact in this paper is 100 per cent. true and can be verified."
In another, part of a long and unsuccessful campaign to raise the nickel fare, Lee's agency listed the exact cost the subway system's coal had tripled to in the post World War I inflation.
Sachs said the posters are available for viewing for the first time since they were put in the subway cars seven decades ago.
Lee's work for the IRT ended when, after failing for over a decade to get the nickel fare raised, the company fell into receivership.