January 25, 2021

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations Board of Advisors has announced its new leadership team and the addition of two new board members. 

Bridget Coffing is the incoming chair, replacing Keith Burton who rotated off the board after 12 years of distinguished service, and Joanne Bischmann will assume the position of vice chair. New board additions include Dr. T. Kenn Gaither and Scott Vazin.

Coffing was most recently senior vice president, worldwide corporate relations for McDonald’s Corporation, capping a more than 35-year career in marketing communications, public affairs and issues management. In this role, she served as chief communications officer for the company, the world’s largest restaurant chain by revenue. Prior to Coffing’s career at McDonald’s, she worked at Golin-Harris Communications, Stephan and Brady Communications and Regal Ware, Inc. Coffing has been a member of The Plank Center board since 2015.

Until her retirement in 2019, Bischmann guided communications for Harley-Davidson Motor Company as well as oversaw its business aviation and travel and meeting services functions.  She was responsible for overseeing all external communications, as well as targeted communications for employees, dealers, suppliers and shareholders. In her time with the company, she served in a variety of roles, including vice president of marketing and vice president of licensing & special events. Bischmann joined The Plank Center’s Board of Advisor in 2016.

“Now more than ever, the world needs leadership and the expertise of communication professionals,” Bischmann said. “The Plank Center is the perfect organization to demonstrate, educate, cultivate and support educators, students and professionals to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Gaither is a professor and associate dean at Elon University’s School of Communications. He has published in journals including the Journal of Public Relations Research and Public Relations Review. In addition, he teaches courses in mass communication, public relations and international communications. Gaither also serves as series editor for the Cambria Press Communication Collection and has authored three books, most recently Globalization and Public Relations in Postcolonial Nations: Challenges and Opportunities. Gaither brings almost 10 years of industry experience to The Plank Center’s Board of Advisors. 

Vazin is group vice president and chief communications officer for Toyota Motor North America, overseeing all of the company’s external and internal communications and public relations activities. He brings three decades of experience in automotive industry public relations to The Plank Center. His current role includes management of product and brand communications for the Toyota and Lexus brands, investor relations, social media and stakeholder engagement, corporate reputation, and sales, motorsports and manufacturing communications. 

“It’s my privilege to partner with our profession’s finest leaders on the Plank Center Board of Advisors,” said Coffing. “Building upon our strong foundation and shared purpose, it is an exciting time to develop and mentor our future leaders, advance meaningful change, and raise the bar even higher in our field.”


About The Plank Center

The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations is the leading international resource working to support students, educators and practitioners who are passionate about the public relations profession. Founded at The University of Alabama in 2005, the Center is named in honor of Betsy Plank, the “First Lady of PR.” Betsy’s legacy and vision continues on in the Center’s programs and initiatives to advance the profession and public relations education. For more information, please visit and follow our social media channels (@PlankCenterPR).

Contact Information

Colleen Dolan

Communications Specialist, The Plank Center | 205.348.7250