Betsy Plank – First Lady of Public Relations

Betsy Plank, known as a PR pioneer, a champion of PR education and the First Lady of public relations, attained leadership positions not reached by previous women. A 1944 graduate of the University of Alabama, Betsy attained national and international stature during a distinguished career in corporate and agency public relations.

Betsy earned countless industry accolades. She served as executive vice president of Daniel J. Edelman, Inc. (now Edelman), before becoming director of public relations planning at AT&T and later director of external affairs at Illinois Bell.

Betsy achieved multiple firsts for women, being the first to head a division of Illinois Bell, and as president of the Publicity Club of Chicago and PRSA (1973). She was also the first person ever to receive three of PRSA’s top individual honors: The Gold Anvil Award (1977), the Paul M. Lund Public Service Award (1989) and the Patrick Jackson Award for Distinguished Service to PRSA (2001). She was also honored with the first Arthur W. Page Society’s Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award and the Public Relations Institute’s Hamilton Award in 2002.

During her career, she was a board member of United Way, Girl Scouts of Chicago and Girl Scouts of the USA.

In 2005, the Trustees of the University of Alabama established The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. The Center’s mission is to develop research, scholarships, and forums that advance the ethical practice of public relations.

In addition to her many personal accomplishments, Plank devoted much of her time to advancing public relations education, consistently and passionately advocating for the profession’s students.

She played a central role in the establishment of PRSSA in 1967, and in 1981, while serving as a National Adviser, co-founded “Friends of PRSSA” (now “Champions for PRSSA”). Plank co-chaired a national commission to develop guidelines for an undergraduate public relations curriculum, serving on accrediting teams at several universities and speaking to numerous student groups and public relations classes to enhance education in the field. In 1989, the PRSA Foundation established the Society’s first ever scholarship endowment fund in her name. Since then, the Betsy Plank Scholarship Endowment Fund has helped ensure the availability of public relations education funds for students at more than 40 colleges nationwide.

Her legacy is most visible in the countless public relations professionals, educators and students who credit her with taking the time to mentor them throughout her career. Her focus on others led her to become the most individually-recognized woman in the industry, a testament to the value of selflessness in professionalism.

Plank was Chair of The Plank Center’s advisory board until her death in May 2010.

From Betsy Plank’s archives:

In Memoriam of Betsy Plank