The facts evoke images of a Zen master prowling Westminster and controlling his temper through his passion for martial arts.
But while Lionel Zetter is not the most animated or loquacious character, a PRWeek interview two weeks into his reign at the institute actually reveals the 52-year-old as an all-round good egg.
The 20-year institute loyalist and Conservative also finds time to play tennis, support Tottenham Hotspur and be a father to three teenage children.
‘My predecessors Chris Genasi and Tony Bradley made strides in improving the image of the CIPR,’ Zetter says. ‘We work with an “EU presidency model” here, in which the outgoing and incoming presidents will also help me. It means you’ve effectively got a three-year tenure.’
One of Zetter’s first achievements was to help the CIPR secure its impressive offices in St James’s Square last year. ‘The offices open us up to the regions, because anyone can travel into London and pop into our building with relative ease,’ explains Zetter. ‘We’ve had 7,000 through the door in a year.’
Zetter is bullish about the effect that the building, and the CIPR’s chartered status – gained in February 2005 – will have. It expects to top 11,000 members by next year (it currently has just over 9,000).
‘The industry is doing well. PR suffered in the last two recessions but I expect it to escape unscathed from the next one, whenever that is,’ says Zetter. ‘PR professionals are now routinely appointed at board level. It’s a good time to be president.’
But Zetter agrees that the public still tend to associate the industry with ‘atypical’ practitioners such as Max Clifford and Alastair Campbell.
‘Although [director-general] Colin Farrington and [his assistant] Francis Ingham do gain exposure, I’d agree the president needs more presence,’ admits Zetter. ‘We’ve also got Jonathan French, who worked in the Tory media unit, and he’ll be using his contacts to gain the CIPR more exposure.’
He adds: ‘I intend to form closer links with the PRCA this year. For example, we are working with it and the APPC to form a public affairs code of conduct.’
That Zetter should be at the centre of these plans owes a lot to his political background. A former chair of the CIPR’s Government Affairs Group, Zetter once stood as a parliamentary candidate in Edmonton.
He sold two companies – research firm Parliamentary Monitoring Services and online campaigning and polling company Political Wizard – last year to Dods Parliamentary Communications. He is now non-executive deputy chairman of Dods in an ‘evangelical’ role.
‘I’ll be working two days and two evenings a week as CIPR president, which is reasonable,’ Zetter says with a vehemence that suggests he was expecting questioning on whether that will be enough. ‘One of the major jobs is crunching two surveys we’ve recently completed of members and non-members, and responding.’
Bradley, 2006’s president, says: ‘Lionel is well respected and good at juggling a lot of balls. He’s not as informal as I am and will bring a harder commercial edge to operations.’
Indeed, Zetter seems to have a straightforward approach to his presidency and is determined to use his evangelical role to make the industry more professional.
‘If we are to assume our rightful place as the managers of reputation, we need to acquire the attributes of more established professions,’ Zetter argues.
‘We must build on our body of knowledge, to commit to continuous professional development, and to work to the highest ethical standards.’
When the results of the surveys are revealed later this year, they will go some way towards showing just how far the CIPR has come, and how much work Zetter still has to do.
CV - Lionel Zetter
Associate director, Media Information Group
Company secretary, PR+CI (Political Research & Communications International)
Managing director, Parliamentary Monitoring Services
Managing editor, PMS Publications
Managing director, Political Wizard
Deputy chairman (non-executive), Dods Parliamentary Communications