Oral Histories

Betsy Plank

Interview Segments on Topic: Challenges/Accomplishments

Betsy Plank Biography

Betsy Plank, known as a PR pioneer, a champion of PR education and the profession’s First Lady, achieved expert stature in positions not reached by previous women.  Following 13 years at Daniel J. Edelman and Associates, Inc., Plank joined the Bell system in 1973 as Director of Public Relations Planning at AT&T, and then became the first woman to direct external affairs at Illinois Bell.

Plank is the recipient of most of the top awards in the field of Public Relations, including the Public Relations Society of America’s Gold Anvil (1977), Lund (1989) and the inaugural Jackson Award (2001); in 2002, she was honored by the Arthur W. Page Society’s first Lifetime Achievement Award and the Public Relations Institute’s Hamilton Award.  In 2005, the Trustees of the University of Alabama established the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations.  The Center’s mission is to develop research, scholarships, and forums that advance the ethical practice of public relations.


Interviewer: It’s a very good distinction between the two different worlds. What were some of the accomplishments that you achieved over the years that you are most proud of as far as the public relations world goes.

Plank: Oh my, well I was very as it turned out I was very proud to be part of the turbulent times in the late 70s and the early 80s when, in its infinite wisdom, the United States government broke up the Bell systems. It was a particular challenge from the point of view of the public relations practitioner because you were dealing with a culture and a commitment by a million people to service them with delivery of the telecommunications from its most sophisticated.. the Bell Laboratories.. to the to the person on the line who was delivery, repair and installation service. You know going out at 4 o’clock in the morning little old ladies got to repair their phones. That culture, and I need not tell you it was such that people had joined it the minute they had graduated from high school or college and it was lifetime commitment.  So when it was inevitable that that culture was going to be fractured by government order or court order then you had to find some, you had to find some new loyalties or build some new loyalties and help people understand and accept the inevitable. And to transfer their loyalties to other corporations to other entities that were formed after the Bell system was broken up.  And that whole challenge in terms of human relationships was a remarkable experience of which to be a part and I’m very privileged. I’m sorry that it had to happen. But when you stop and think about public relations and its fundamental charge and fundamental responsibility is to face, meet and resolve problems. And certainly this was a problem of mega proportions and to be to be a part of it, to happen to be a part of it, was a great privilege and I’m very proud to be in the company of some wonderful professionals who handled it with great skill.