A Legacy of Leadership
PRSSA has a rich legacy of leadership and growth due to the work of the visionary professionals and students who have served the Society. This legacy is described below and is detailed in full in, “PRSSA: A Brief History” (PDF).
How We Started
PRSSA owes its existence to the influence of three exceptional advocates — Chris Teahan, Jon Riffel, APR, and J. Carroll Bateman, APR — who led an 18-year struggle by educators, students and practitioners to form a student Society. They reached their triumph in November 1967 at the PRSA Assembly in Philadelphia, where delegates voted unanimously to establish PRSSA.
The PRSA Board of Directors chartered the first PRSSA Chapters on April 4, 1968, at nine qualified schools: University of Florida, University of Houston, University of Maryland, The Ohio State University, San Jose State University, University of Southern California, University of Texas at Austin, Utica College and West Virginia University. PRSSA began with just 196 members.
Three additional Chapters — University of Central Missouri, University of North Dakota and Syracuse University — were approved on June 28. Kent State University received its charter on Sept. 13 and Northern Illinois University on Nov. 17. These 14 Alpha Chapters were the humble beginnings of PRSSA as we know it today.
Since then, PRSSA has progressed through the leadership of its past National Committees and the support of leaders like Champions for PRSSA, the PRSA Foundation and Betsy Plank, APR, Fellow PRSA.
Godmother of PRSSA
Considered the first lady of public relations and godmother of PRSSA, Betsy Plank, APR, Fellow PRSA, was a trailblazer for the public relations profession and played an integral part in the history of our Society.
Pioneer of the Profession
A longtime resident of Chicago, Plank earned countless industry accolades. She served as executive vice president of Daniel J. Edelman Inc. (now Edelman) before becoming director of public relations planning at AT&T and later director of external affairs at Illinois Bell.
Plank achieved multiple firsts for women, being the first to head a division of Illinois Bell, and first woman president of the Publicity Club of Chicago and PRSA (1973). She also was the first person ever to receive three of PRSA’s top individual honors: The Gold Anvil Award (1977), the Paul M. Lund Public Service Award (1989) and the Patrick Jackson Award for Distinguished Service to PRSA (2001). She also was honored with the Arthur W. Page Society’s Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award.
Plank also founded the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at the University of Alabama, the leading international resource for practitioners, educators and students who are passionate about advancing their careers and the public relations profession. The Plank Center’s mission is to help develop and recognize outstanding diverse public relations leaders, role models and mentors to advance ethical public relations in an evolving, global society. The Center is a piece of her everlasting legacy. The PRSSA National President is honored with a seat on the Plank Center Board of Advisers to act as a continued connection between the Center and the student Society.
In addition to her many personal accomplishments, Plank devoted much of her time to advancing public relations education, consistently and passionately advocating for the profession’s students.
She played a central role in the establishment of PRSSA in 1967, and in 1981, while serving as a National Adviser, co-founded Friends of PRSSA, now known as Champions for PRSSA. In 1987, Plank co-chaired a national commission to develop guidelines for an undergraduate public relations curriculum, serving on accrediting teams at several universities, and speaking to numerous student groups and public relations classes to enhance education in the field. In 1989, the PRSA Foundation established the Society’s first-ever scholarship endowment fund in her name. Since then, the Betsy Plank Scholarship Endowment Fund has helped ensure the availability of public relations education funds for students at more than 40 colleges nationwide.
Her legacy is most visible in the countless PRSSA members and professionals who credit her with taking the time to mentor them throughout their careers. Her focus on others led her to become the most individually recognized woman in the industry, a testament to the value of selflessness in professionalism.
PRSSA now serves nearly 9,000 students at 300-plus Chapters in the United States, Argentina, Colombia and Peru. Some milestones in PRSSA’s development include: