Oral Histories

Betsy Plank

Interview Segments on Topic: Arthur Page/Principles/Society/Center

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: I was wondering if you were doing the role of trying to help a company make its employees more ethical. Or that sounds like good ideas or would you just [inaudible] corporation just announced that one day that one strike and you are out. And that message filtered down to all the employees and that set the stage for behaviors.

Plank: That’s fantastic.

Interviewer: That behavior. Some of the people were fired right after that.

Plank: I love that CEO. I think there were three people that were fired in that particular situation. Gone. Wonderful absolutely wonderful. You can’t as far as appointing an ethics officer.  I am reminded one of the principles of Mr. Page a man that we revere so very much in public relations profession is that the public relations representatives for the company are all of its employees. And I think that’s probably one of the wisest observations that has ever been made in our profession. In the same way if you seek to bracket ethics and trustworthy behavior and so forth and house it in a particular office with a particular person it seems to be at risk getting pigeon holed and not being a part of a total behavior of all the employees. So I’m speaking out of ignorance because I’ve never worked for a company that had a director of ethics or a vice presidents for ethics. I have always assumed that all of the leaders of any company with which I’ve been associated with are men and women of ethical behavior and personal trust and I’ve rarely been disappointed and I’ve lived a long time.

Interviewer: Betsy that’s my last question. Not that I don’t have plenty more here but you’ve covered a lot. Is I am not sure if there something else you would like to say that you didn’t get a chance to say. This would be a good opportunity to get in some [inaudible] that you would like to express in the Penn State website that should be available for people for generations to come. [inaudible]I want to give you that opportunity.

Plank: Well I just hope you’ve asked me about the Center at the University of Alabama and of course it was preceded by the Page Center at Penn State and we are very fortunate to have that pioneer in Larry Foster who put it all together and who has made it happen and I would hope that being prejudice as I am about the next generation of students in particularly the organization that represents them the Public Relations Student Society of America. I see that among its 9,000 members are the next generation’s Allen Center and Howard Chase and Scott Caplup and Haley Nelson and Marilyn Laurie and Pat Jackson and Ann Barkelew and all the people who have lit up our professional skies in the past some place among those 9,000 students are the next generation’s group and I would hope that among all of this wonderful activities and missions that the Page Center at Penn State would also do much to outreach to that next generation and to help it become all that it can be and I’m sure that it will. So, you know, God bless that prophecy.