Betsy Plank

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Betsy Plank
Born (1924-04-03)April 3, 1924
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Died May 23, 2010(2010-05-23) (aged 86)
Alma mater University of Alabama
Occupation Public relations

Betsy Ann Plank (1924–2010)[1] is commonly known as the first lady of public relations[2][3] because her public relations career, which lasted 63 years, was filled with many firsts.[1][2] She was recognized by the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication as a "PR pioneer... and champion of public relations education,"[4] and The New York Times referred to her as "a true trailblazer in the field of public relations."[2]

Early life[edit]

On April 3, 1924, Plank was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.[2] She received a bachelor's degree in history and a minor in English literature from the University of Alabama.[2] There was no such thing as a public relations major when she attended college, which inspired her efforts to develop and advance public relations education.[2] Following her graduation in 1944, she briefly pursued a career in radio broadcasting.[2]

Public relations career[edit]

In 1947, Plank started her first public relations job in a temporary position at a public relations agency that served nonprofit organizations.[2] She accepted a full-time position at the agency after several months and later worked at other agencies during the 1950s.[2]

In 1960, she became an employee of Daniel J. Edelman Inc. (now known as Edelman Public Relations) and served as executive vice president and treasurer.[2][5]

In 1963, she became the first female president of the Publicity Club of Chicago (this position is now referred to as chair and CEO).[1]

In 1967, she helped create the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), which is the student affiliate of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), to help students advance their knowledge of public relations and network with public relations professionals.[1][5]

In 1973, she was the first woman to be elected president of Public Relations Society of America.[6] In this role, she supervised the transition that resulted in establishing PRSSA as a self-governing body.[1] Also in 1973, she left Daniel J. Edelman Inc. and moved to executive positions at AT&T and then Illinois Bell (now called SBC Communications Inc.),[1][2] where she became the first woman to direct a company department.[2] In this role, she worked on external affairs and managed a staff of 102 employees.[2]

In 1979, she helped establish The Chicago Network, which the Chicago Tribune described in 2010 as "a still-prominent organization of professional women."[1]

From 1981 until 1983, Plank (who is also known as the godmother of PRSSA[2][7] ) partnered with Jon Riffel (who is known as the godfather of PRSSA[2]) to start a group that is now called Champions for PRSSA, which is composed of public relations professionals who have taken a special interest in public relations education and PRSSA students.[2] This group gives annual scholarships, and the scholarship name was later changed to the Betsy Plank/PRSSA scholarships.[2]

In 1987, she served as the co-chair of the 1987 Commission on Undergraduate Public Relations Education, which produced recommendations for public relations education.[2]

In 1989, Plank played a key role in creating PRSA's Certification in Education in Public Relations program, which provides the opportunity for universities to obtain PRSA's feedback about their public relations programs and potentially earn PRSA's endorsement.[2] Also in 1989, she became a founding member of the PRSA College of Fellows.[8]

In 1990, Plank left Illinois Illinois Bell and started a public relations agency in Chicago called Betsy Plank Public Relations.[2]

In 2005, she endowed the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at the University of Alabama.[1][5] Its mission is to "help develop and recognize outstanding leaders and role models in public relations."[9]

During her career, she served as the president of United Christian Community Services, a coalition that included nine community agencies.[8] She also was a board member of United Way, Girl Scouts of Chicago and Girl Scouts of the USA.[3][8]


Plank expressed that the future of public relations depends on education and research.[2] She emphasized the importance of interpersonal communication: "Communications technology is a magic, wonderful tool, but simply a tool. It will never replace the human encounter."[2] Plank also called for increased credibility, ethics and transparency in the practice of public relations.[2] During her speech for the Alexander Hamilton award, Plank stated, "Public relations is fundamental to a democratic society where people make decisions in the workplace, the marketplace, the community and in the voting booth. Its primary mission is to forge responsible relationships of understanding, trust and respect among groups and individuals – even though they often disagree."[5]


Plank received the Gold Anvil Award (PRSA's top award) in 1977 in recognition of her lifetime achievement.[3][5][10]

Plank was the first woman elected by Public Relations News readers for the title of Professional of the Year in 1979.[2][10]

Plank was honored as one of the World's 40 Outstanding Public Relations Leaders by Public Relations News in 1984.[2]

PRSA awarded her the Paul M. Lund Public Service Award in 1989.[3][5]

PRSSA recognized Plank with the 25th Anniversary Award in 1993.[2]

Plank was the first recipient of the PRSA Educators Academy's David W. Ferguson Award in 1997, which is an award that recognizes outstanding contributions to public relations education by a public relations professional.[2]

Plank became the first person to receive Arthur W. Page Society's Distinguished Service Award in 2000, which used to be called the Lifetime Achievement Award.[2] Also in 2000, Plank was the first woman to receive the Alexander Hamilton Award, which is an award for significant contributions to the field of public relations, from the Institute for Public Relations[2][3][5][8]

Plank received the Patrick Jackson Award for Distinguished Service to PRSA in 2001.[3][10] Also in 2001, Plank was inducted into University of Alabama's Communication Hall of Fame in 2001, and five other universities also gave her similar honors for her leadership as a public relations professional.[2]

Personal life[edit]

As a social activist, Plank traveled to Alabama in 1965 to participate in the final part of the Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery.[3][8]

Plank married film producer and editor Sherman V. Rosenfield.[1] They bought a powerboat for their first anniversary of their marriage, called it Yearling, and kept it in Lake Michigan.[1] Following her husband's death in 1990, she spent many summers on the Yearling in the harbor, talking with friends and feeding the ducks.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Jensen, Trevor (May 25, 2010). "Betsy Plank, 1924-2010: Public relations leader". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Kelly, Kathleen; Cristina Proano Beazley (2005). Robert L. Heath, ed. Betsy Plank (First ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. pp. 622–624. ISBN 0-7619-2733-6. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Betsy Plank (Obituary)". The New York Times. May 26, 2010. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  4. ^ The Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication. "Betsy Plank". Retrieved March 7, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Broom, Glen M.; Bey-Ling Sha (2013). Cutlip & Center's Effective Public Relations (11 ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson. pp. 96–97. ISBN 978-0-13-266915-3. 
  6. ^ "In memoriam: Betsy Plank, APR, Fellow PRSA, 86". May 23, 2010. The Public Relations Society of America. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  7. ^ PRSSA. "About Betsy Plank: Godmother of PRSSA". Retrieved March 10, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Public Relations Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. "Betsy Plank". Retrieved March 10, 2013. 
  9. ^ The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. "Mission". Retrieved March 10, 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c Heath, Robert; W. Timothy Coombs (2006). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p. 61. ISBN 1-4129-2635-1.  Missing or empty |title= (help)