Four Women who Changed the Face of Public Relations

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We are in an age of feminism: we see “I Am a Feminist” written on t-shirts in successful fashion campaigns. There are pins, buttons, and Instagram captions. Many young women and girls look up to prominent female figures such as Barbara Walters, Oprah, Michelle Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Emma Watson. But with these proclamations of love for powerful women, we often forget about those working behind the scenes to help get their powerful messages out there: PR Girls. So I’ve compiled a list of four influential women from the world of public relations that deserve recognition. You go, girls!

1. Betsy Plank

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Betsy is often referred to as “The First Lady of Public Relations,” because her career held so many firsts for the PR sphere. From the years of 1960 to 1973, she served as the executive vice president and treasurer with Daniel J. Edelman, Inc. (now known as Edelman Public Relations Worldwide). In 1963, she became the first female president of the Publicity Club of Chicago. In 1967, she helped create the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), (the student affiliate of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). The goal of PRSSA is to help students learn more about the business of public relations and network with professionals in the field. In 1973, Plank became the director of public relations planning for AT&T. After she spent this short amount of time with AT&T, Plank transferred to Illinois Bell (now known as SBC Communications Inc.). She quickly became the head of a staff comprised of over one hundred people in the department and directing external affairs. With this position, Plank became the first woman to head a company department.

2. Barbara Hunter

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Barbara was the first woman to own and run her own Public Relations agency in the United States. Hunter started out as an account executive at Dudley-Anderson-Yutzy Public Relations in 1956. In 1970, Hunter and her sister purchased D-A-Y and Hunter was promoted to executive vice president after all three of the previous owners passed away. After selling D-A-Y, she then went on to open up her own boutique PR agency, Hunter Public Relations, in 1989. She ran it out of her bedroom with only three employees.  In 1993, Barbara received PRSA’s highest honor, The Gold Anvil, for individual lifetime achievement in PR.

3. Muriel Fox

Muriel Fox is a feminist activist as well as a publicist, standing up for women everywhere, especially in the PR field. She first applied for a job at Carl Byoir & Associates, which was then the world’s largest public relations agency, but was rejected by the Executive Vice President of the agency, who stated, "We don't hire women writers.” This sent Fox on a path of feminism, even proving the same company wrong later in life when she was hired as a publicist in their radio-TV department. From there, Fox went on to become the youngest VP of the agency—and a female one, at that! In the past, Fox also co-founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) with activist and author of The Feminine Mystique Betty Friedan. Fox served as head of PR for NOWm and eventually acted as the Vice President from 1967-1970, the chair of its board from 1971-1973, and served on its national advisory committee from 1973-1974.

4. Shelley Spector

Shelley Spector is one of the names you think of when you think of modern PR women. Spector was the President of Spector & Associates beginning in 1991. She founded The Museum of Public Relations in 1997, which is an awe-inspiring collection that anyone in Public Relations would fawn over. Part of this collection is currently on display at Baruch College here in Manhattan. Also at Baruch, Spector is an adjunct professor of Public Relations History in the M.A. Corporate Communications program, and was formerly an adjunct professor in the PR/CC M.S. program at NYU. Spector is also the proud winner of nearly 40 PR awards on behalf of Fortune 100 companies, such as AT&T, Bayer Corporation, and Philips Corporation. She has been named “Creative All Star” and “Most Innovative Agency” by the Holmes Report.

Take a moment out of your day to appreciate all of the hardworking women in your life, and definitely give some credit to those who deserve it. We have a lot to learn from these women, and this female positivity can only grow. Don’t forget: We can do it!