Thoughts on the Late Betsy Plank, APR

On Sunday, May 23, the public relations profession lost a true standard-bearer. Her name was Betsy Plank, and she worked her entire career here in my home city of Chicago.

Mrs. Plank had an exemplary life and career.  An obituary in today’s Chicago Tribune provides the details:

  • Started at Edelman in 1952 and excelled there for 20 years
  • Led the communications department at AT&T and Illinois Bell
  • First woman president of PRSA in 1973
  • Established the Plank Center at the University of Alabama

Any one of these accomplishments elevates Mrs. Plank to a very lofty level among those of us who practice public relations.

But the one aspect of Mrs. Plank’s career that strikes a very responsive chord for me is her role in the founding of the Public Relations Student Society of America.   Through her efforts and those of others, future generations of public relations professionals have a direct connection to those of us actively working in the trenches and teaching ethical, effective PR.  As I see it, the very essence of PRSSA is to transcend being a mentor, but to be an example.

I never met Mrs. Plank.   But apparently she is an example for all of us to follow.  And, I’m proud to say that Mrs. Plank believed in the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential, which I am proud to hold.  (For the record, I’m on the Universal Accreditation Board, which grants, oversees and promotes Accreditation.)

Public relations is — and should be — an evolving profession.  I’ll use a two-decade-old phrase that’s become a cliche, but still works to underscore what PR should be: cutting edge.  That requires new education, new ideas and new strategists.

Given the never-ending news cycle and digital communications revolution, society needs true public relations professionals today more than ever.  Want evidence?  Read what happened to BP when they did not actively address postings in a phony Twitter account.

Regrets in my life?  To borrow from the lyrics from “My Way,” I’ve had a few.  One regret is that I never met Betsy Plank, APR.

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