Plank Center Works to Advance Diversity and Inclusion in Public Relations

The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations has created a Diversity and Inclusion Committee to be a catalyst for other professional organizations, to help identify and bridge gaps, and assist organizations seeking to adopt best-in-class practices in the area of diversity and inclusion.

Keith Burton, Plank Center chair-elect and principal of Grayson Emmett Partners, has been instrumental in leading the development of the committee and served as its chair. “One of the greatest needs we’ve identified in the public relations field is joining with others to help create more diverse and inclusive cultures,” Burton said. “Leading global organizations we know and serve are paving the way for the future of diversity and inclusion, and we have a responsibility to help foster innovation and apply the lessons they’ve learned for the benefit of our profession.”

Plank Center board members serving on the committee include:

  • Nilanjana Bardhan, professor, University of Southern Illinois-Carbondale;
  • Ellen East, EVP, Chief Communications Officer, Time Warner Cable (Ret.);
  • Pat Ford, Worldwide Vice Chair, Chief Client Officer, Burson-Marsteller;
  • Julia Hood, EVP, Chief Content Officer, Haymarket Media Group;
  • Diana Martinelli, associate dean of the Reed College of Media, West Virginia University; and
  • Gary McCormick, principal, GMc Communications, LLC.

Bardhan and Ford have been tapped to succeed Burton as co-chairs, and their committee is honored to have six additional leaders that were added this year in an advisory role, to support the work and contribute to the advancement of the public relations profession. The six advisors include:

  • Malcolm Berkley, vice president, global employee experience, United Parcel Service;
  • Kenon Brown, Plank Center Scholar and assistant professor, University of Alabama;
  • Aerial Ellis, instructor, department of communication and journalism, Lipscomb University;
  • Kenn Gaither, associate professor and associate dean, school of communications, Elon University;
  • Judith Harrison, senior vice president, staffing and diversity & inclusion, Weber Shandwick; and
  • Brenda Wrigley, associate professor and chair, department of marketing communication, Emerson College.

The committee is working on several initiatives including:

The Center is committed to working and supporting diversity and inclusion in public relations. The on-going effort of this committee will be to determine research needs, finding best-in-class practices and moderating this effort with other public relations organizations.

About the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations

In 2005, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees established The Plank Center. Named for public relations leader and UA alumna, the late Betsy Plank, the Center develops and recognizes outstanding diverse public relations leaders, role models and mentors to advance ethical public relations in an evolving, global society through a variety of initiatives.

In addition to national leaders in the practice and education, the Center’s Board includes an ex officio position for the president of the Public Relations Student Society of America that represents more than 11,000 members in 300-plus colleges and universities.

The Center is housed in UA’s department of advertising and public relations, a division of the College of Communication and Information Sciences. UA’s public relations program, with nearly 1,400 students, is the largest undergraduate degree program within the College. The program is certified by the Public Relations Society of America.

CONTACT: Jessika White, Communications Specialist, 205/348-7250,