Posted: April 3, 2014, 10:11 a.m.
by Myreete Wolford.
Betsy Plank changed the way I understand the word “passion.”
Betsy was a leader like no one you’ve ever heard of before. She once said, “I lived almost two career lifetimes in public relations, which is pretty ironic, since when I was in college no one had ever heard of it.”
Two Career Lifetimes
Starting off, she broke the mold. After graduating from The University of Alabama, she had an in with the local radio station thanks to her uncle. Three years later, she accepted her first public relations job, and the rest was history.
Throughout her career, she served as executive vice president of Edelman and an executive at AT&T, became the first female president of PRSA, helped create the PRSA accreditation program, and helped establish PRSSA. Today, she is known as the “godmother” of PRSSA and the First Lady of public relations. She also began Champions for PRSSA and is the namesake for The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, a global resource that she handpicked to be placed at The University of Alabama.
Breaking Glass Ceilings
While taking over the industry, she undeniably broke through some glass ceilings. She would say, “My mother, bless her, always thought public relations sounded like something no nice southern girl should be involved with,” but her mother didn’t understand the gusto Betsy had for the profession.
Along with that, a story from a Plank Center board member must be told.
Betsy was to lead a meeting at a place called The Union League in Chicago, Ill. This building, however, was home to a gentlemen’s club and excluded women from even walking through the front door. Betsy, knowing that there was no way this meeting would happen without her, said, “Fine! Take me to the back door, and I’ll ride up the elevator shaft.” With that, the little woman with great power made her way into her meeting.
It’s that passion that makes her relevant.
Time To Fan Girl
Just in case you are not fan-girling like I am at this point, let me just list off some other fun facts about Betsy.
She was friends with Audrey Hepburn. Nancy Reagan was often shaking her hand for pictures. She loved a good glass of whiskey and enjoyed the occasional Big Mac. She always had a Polaroid camera around her neck, she only sent faxes, and she enjoyed her time behind her typewriter. In college, her physics grades were unsatisfactory, but that was OK; she’s Betsy Plank.
In a speech to PRSSA students, she even admitted what none of us want to:
“I confess that I cannot recall ever having consciously planned one single step of the career way.“
She had no idea what she wanted to do after college. She didn’t have a plan – which should resonate with most of us – and yet, it seems like it all worked out for her.
Job searching, personal life, leadership, mentoring and volunteering, Betsy Plank was more than well-rounded: she was exactly who I needed to learn about during my last year of college. Her passion has given a light to mine.
I’m currently going through my job search, as are 1.9 million other millennials, and this was the most relevant current event that has happened to me, in a while.
“Graduation is not a signal that one is prepared to practice for a career lifetime. It’s simply a license to hit the turf running and to keep learning.” Betsy knew what was up.
This blog is for the goodness of your future, your profession and your sensibility. Betsy Plank may have passed, but her words are forever relevant to all professions.
Oh and one last thing that Betsy would always write to sign off:
“Amen, my young colleagues. Welcome to the journey and Godspeed.”