2009: Betsy Plank

2009 Pub­lic­ity Club of Chicago Life­time Achieve­ment Hon­oree:
Betsy Plank

Dur­ing her 60-plus years in pub­lic rela­tions, Betsy Plank has marked sev­eral “firsts.” In 1963 she became the first woman elected pres­i­dent of the Pub­lic­ity Club of Chicago and, 10 years later, the first woman elected pres­i­dent of the Pub­lic Rela­tions Soci­ety of Amer­ica. Plank is the only per­son to receive PRSA’s three cap­stone hon­ors: the Gold Anvil as out­stand­ing U.S. pro­fes­sional; the Lund Award (1989) for exem­plary civic and com­mu­nity ser­vice; the Jack­son Award for dis­tin­guished ser­vice to the soci­ety. In 1979, she was the first woman elected by read­ers of Pub­lic Rela­tions News as Pro­fes­sional of the Year and in 1984, that pub­li­ca­tion named her one of the Worlds’ 40 Out­stand­ing Pub­lic Rela­tions Leaders.

Plank’s career spans both agency and cor­po­rate prac­tice. She was Exec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent and Trea­surer of Edel­man, an inter­na­tional coun­sel­ing firm, before join­ing the Bell Sys­tem. After serv­ing as AT&T Direc­tor of Pub­lic Rela­tions Plan­ning, she became the first woman to head a depart­ment at Illi­nois Bell, direct­ing urban, com­mu­nity and edu­ca­tional affairs, issues man­age­ment and eco­nomic devel­op­ment before retir­ing in 1990. Since that time, she has been actively engaged in coun­sel­ing, as a vol­un­teer in pro­fes­sional and civic work.

In 2002, the Arthur W. Page Soci­ety of cor­po­rate pub­lic rela­tions exec­u­tives awarded her its first life­time honor for Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice to the Pro­fes­sion. That same year, she was the first woman to receive the Insti­tute for Pub­lic Rela­tions’ Alexan­der Hamil­ton Award, named for the found­ing father pri­mar­ily respon­si­ble for per­suad­ing 13 diverse colonies to accept a uni­fy­ing Con­sti­tu­tion. When receiv­ing the award, Plank said, “In my phi­los­o­phy, pub­lic rela­tions is fun­da­men­tal to a demo­c­ra­tic soci­ety where peo­ple make deci­sions in the work­place, mar­ket­place, the com­mu­nity and the vot­ing booth. Its pri­mary mis­sion is to forge respon­si­ble rela­tion­ships of under­stand­ing, trust and respect among groups and indi­vid­u­als – even when they dis­agree! Mr. Hamilton’s his­toric work con­tin­ues to inspire and inform that dif­fi­cult chal­lenge today.”

In her long­time advo­cacy for pub­lic rela­tions edu­ca­tion, Plank co-chaired the 1987 Com­mis­sion to develop guide­lines for under­grad­u­ate stud­ies and later launched the pro­gram for onsite reviews and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of such pro­grams. A past national advi­sor to the Pub­lic Rela­tions Stu­dent Soci­ety of Amer­ica, she has a name­sake PRSSA Chap­ter and schol­ar­ship at North­ern Illi­nois Uni­ver­sity. Plank is founder and co-chair of the Cham­pi­ons for PRSSA and received the stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions 25th Anniver­sary Award and its annual schol­ar­ships are named for her.

A native of Alabama, Plank returned in 1965 to join the final legs of the Civil Rights Selma-to-Montgomery March. She received her B.A. degree (1944) in his­tory and polit­i­cal sci­ence from the Uni­ver­sity of Alabama, where she was elected to its Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Hall of Fame in 2000. In 2005, the uni­ver­sity trustees estab­lished the Plank Cen­ter for Lead­er­ship in Pub­lic Rela­tions, whose mis­sion is to con­duct and spon­sor research and pro­grams which advance the eth­i­cal practice.

Active on the com­mu­nity scene, Plank chaired the Illi­nois Coun­cil on Eco­nomic Edu­ca­tion and the Cit­i­zen­ship Coun­cil of Met­ro­pol­i­tan Chicago, has served on the boards of the United Way, Girl Scouts USA and Girl Scouts of Chicago, and twice chaired annual Lead­er­ship Lun­cheons of the YWCA of Met­ro­pol­i­tan Chicago. She is a founder and past chair of The Chicago Net­work, the area’s lead­ing career women, and received its First Decade Award in 1989. Plank con­tin­ues to serve on the board of Illi­nois Issues, the state’s pub­lic pol­icy publication.

Plank is the only per­son to have been pres­i­dent of four Chicago com­mu­ni­ca­tions orga­ni­za­tions: Pub­lic­ity Club of Chicago (1963); Wel­fare Pub­lic Rela­tions Forum (1966–67); Chicago Chap­ter PRSA (1969); and the Pub­lic Rela­tions Forum (1979).

Plank is named in Who’s Who in Amer­ica and is a life­time mem­ber of the Pub­lic­ity Club of Chicago, a mem­ber of the Eco­nomic Club and Union League Club of Chicago and the Inter­na­tional Pub­lic Rela­tions Asso­ci­a­tion. She was mar­ried to the late Sher­man V. Rosen­field and resides in Chicago.