Legends of Public Relations: Betsy Plank

Note from the Editor: The following blog post is one of a four-part “Legends of Public Relations” series on Progressions. All excerpts were originally published in “Legacies from Legends in Public Relations” by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations in 2007, a booklet which celebrated the 40th anniversary of PRSSA with personal messages for students written by industry legends.

Graphic by Ben Butler
Graphic by Ben Butler

Betsy Plank, APR, Fellow PRSA
Principal, Betsy Plank Public Relations

Career (1947-90): Community (Red Cross; Chicago Foreign Relations Council); Agency (Edelman); Corporate (Illinois Bell). PRSA (1973 President); Arthur W. Page Society; International PR Association. PR News Professional of the Year (1979). Co-chair, Commission on Public Relations Education (1987).  Boards: Illinois Council of Economic Education; Illinois Issues; Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, University of Alabama. Co-Founder, Champions for PRSSA.

“Today’s aspiring public relations students and young professionals have a running start on their careers: formal study in the discipline and early commitment to the profession. Most have also had internships, mentoring by educators and practitioners, leadership experience and connections through PRSSA and multi-cultural and global perspectives.

Those opportunities weren’t there for most of my generation. We arrived from other studies, other occupations–primarily journalism. (This history/political science major had never heard of public relations!) The customary qualification: writing. The rest we learned by the seat of our pants or skirts–growing with the field as it evolved from one-way communication, publicity and event production to a management function charged with building reputation and relationships, dedicated to truth and listening; enlightened by research; disciplined by corporate objectives; increasingly challenged by societal issues.

So what lessons learned would have currency if I were starting all over again today? Among the many I remember and value:

  • Ethics and Integrity. They are not simply a professional “code” to begin observing on the job. They are one’s here-and-now character and compass–in today’s classrooms, in daily relationships and behavior throughout a lifetime.
  • Mentoring. In every corner of career and life, you’ll nurture and benefit from mentors. But also–begin now to become a mentor–upperclassmen to younger students, new alumni to classrooms and interns. From wherever you stand today, reach out a caring, responsible hand.
  • Knowing the Business–of clients/employers, for-profit and not-for-profit. How it works; its products or services; its objectives; its financials; its constituencies, competition and corporate culture.
  • Computer Miracles. Their wonders and resources are tools for a professional’s command, not captivity. They never replace face-to-face encounters fundamental to public relations practice.  At least not so long as volatile, stubborn and complex human beings are around!
  • Community Service. Beyond the daily desk, volunteering hones leadership skills, develops new contacts and insights, helps solve community problems. It’s also good for the soul.
  • Passion for Reading–newspapers and periodicals, of course. But also research, history, contemporary and classical literature. (And keep re-reading the essays of Emerson and E.B. White, Betsy!)
  • Professional Organizations. They provide unique opportunities to continue learning, develop leadership skills, forge collegial connections and make significant contributions to the profession’s progress and promise.
  • Public Relations. Practiced at its best, it is a proud, powerful and responsible profession, essential to a democratic society in which people make daily decisions in the workplace, the market place, the community and the voting booth. Besides, it’s populated by many of the brightest, most creative, caring “can-do” men and women of honor, heart and humor—curiously addicted to the rigors of problem solving. Traveling in that spirited company is a great adventure!

Amen, my young colleagues. Welcome aboard the journey!”

Betsy Plank

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