2009 Publicity Club of Chicago Lifetime Achievement Honoree:
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.