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New History, More Women and Evolving Ethics in PR

Updated: Feb 24, 2019

Tracking history in public relations can be tricky business. Fortunately for attendees of The University of Alabama’s PRSSA Southeastern Regional Conference, Dr. Margot Lamme and Dr. Karla Gower chose to do the hard work for us, synthesizing our history in one session. Keeping with the theme of Innovating Tradition: Diving Deeper into PR, Lamme and Gower gave an informative overview of how our public relations traditions came to be. Learning this history is vital to our future. How can we innovate tradition if we do not really know where it started? One lesson becomes evident quickly; to move forward, understand the past.

Ethics form the bedrock of our history. Here are a few key points from the session. Using these points, we can all work together to build on this foundation and shape new history in public relations.

1. Know yourself, and know that people are listening.

Dolley Madison, wife of former President James Madison, shaped the American political sphere by using her position in society to the best of her ability. First becoming active in politics through letter writing, Dolley transformed into “America’s hostess” by hosting regular parties transcending class in one physical location. Her notoriety crossed the ocean. As the British strategized to usurp the blossoming American spirit, they started with the home in which Dolley hosted her parties. Unbeknownst to the soldiers, in destroying the White House, they solidified Washington, D.C. as the new political center of the United States.

Whether an intern, account executive or vice president of communication, take full advantage of your situation in life; it may create something wholly unexpected.

2. Actions speak louder than words.

Benjamin Franklin struck a chord with Dr. Lamme in his treatment of his sister. While Franklin’s contribution to American politics and life should not be ignored, the manner in which he forgot his family is ignored by popular history. Where Franklin would write about his esteem for his sister, his absence in her time of need speaks greater volumes to his character.

As young professionals, we cannot forget the value of relationships. The value in what we will do is measured in the people we serve. The motivations behind Franklin’s actions may never be truly understood, but this should serve as a caution to all. Some trends may fade as others arise, but people will never go out of style. As we all rush to find the perfect internship, the best job and the most LinkedIn connections, let’s commit to making a concentrated effort to remember the value in human connections along the way.

3. Be like Betsy Plank—Never give up or settle.

Dr. Gower delved into the path that Betsy Plank, the “first lady of public relations”, took throughout her career. There are numerous lessons to be learned from this trailblazer in our field. Each of these can appeal to students of public relations, as well as to professionals:

  • It is okay if you have to hunt for a while for a job; Betsy did.

  • It is okay if life calls you to a place where you have zero contacts; Betsy did.

  • It is okay to gamble on yourself if no one else does; Betsy did.

  • It is okay to try something new; Betsy did.

The strongest lesson from Betsy was one of resilience. Don’t ever give up. It would appear every time Betsy settled in, life would take a turn, and she would be on the road to something new. Betsy trusted her instincts and talents, and it paid dividends in the long run. As professionals entering the field we should hold tight to that ethos.

Each step forward in public relations is a credit to each professional who put us where we are today. As young professionals, we respect those who prepared the foundation and eagerly anticipate where we will take it next. 

When forging a career, consider the following: “What brought me to this position, and how can I use it to shape the future of our practice?”

-by Kaytlin Nowell, VP of Communication for Mississippi State University PRSSA

Kaytlin Nowell is the vice president of communication for Mississippi State University PRSSA and a student coordinator of social media for Mississippi State Athletics. Connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at


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