July marks Frank Ovaitt's third year as president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), an independent foundation dedicated to "the science beneath the art of PR" that celebrated its golden anniversary last year. Under Ovaitt's leadership, revenues have swelled ($840,000 in 2006), and the institute is expanding its horizons.
"[IPR] is about building research-based knowledge and mainstreaming that into the profession," Ovaitt says. "Some years, the institute was almost dormant from lack of resources. Funding gives us the ability to run six educational programs a year. Programs are a mix of professionals and academics. [It's important to] master the bridge between the academic and professional worlds. We see ourselves right at that point."
Robert Grupp, Cephalon's VP of communications and corporate culture and IPR board member, has known Ovaitt for two decades. "Nearly all institute trustees are heads of major international [PR] agencies or chief [PR] officer[s] at Fortune 100 corporations," he says. "[They didn't come] knocking on the door asking [to] help. Frank sought them out, asked for active participation, and earned it by challenging them to help address fundamental issues impacting our profession."
In 2004, the IPR developed a five-year plan to build capability to deliver research-based knowledge to broader audiences. It met that objective ahead of schedule and is currently devising a new strategic plan. Under consideration: digitizing the entire research knowledge base of PR.
"We've defined ourselves in a way that a lot more people are going to get it," Ovaitt says. "We are building on the progress we have made, [and are looking at] creat[ing] a portal [to provide] guided tours of research."
Research has been available free online for about seven years (previously, hard copies were sold). Ovaitt says at least 150 papers are currently online, and more are added all the time. The site gets about 6,000 visitors a month, including students directed there by professors.
Grupp notes that Ovaitt "navigates seamlessly between business and academic interests."
Ovaitt's greatest satisfaction is the institute's tangible impact on students, academics, and professionals around the world. In May, he spoke in the former Soviet republic Latvia at the Latvian Association of Public Relations Companies. Web site visits from the country spiked from 14 all year to 64 in a three-week period in May.
"To [make] a difference and [provide] a resource that will help them continue to develop - that's what I like best," Ovaitt says.
Grupp describes Ovaitt as "an internationalist [who is] relentless in reminding trustees [of] our opportunities - our obligation really - [to] impact beyond our own shores."
Ovaitt's involvement with the IPR spans 25 years. He joined the board in 1994 and asked to be considered to take the helm when former president and CEO Jack Felton retired. "I thought it would be an interesting next challenge," he says. "It's a perfect job when you no longer need a job."
Grupp adds: "He's an experienced PR pro, engaged intellectually, and a coalition builder. I can't think of another professional association or society where the leadership has all three of these important traits. [He] has positioned the institute's mission as 'collaborating with all and competing with none.' It's a smart move - and the right one."
President and CEO, IPR
CMO and advisory board member, Enamics
May 1995-March 2006
MD, Crossover International
November 1992-May 1995
VP, corporate affairs, MCI