How times change. Less than two years ago the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and members of Operation PUSH called on the Ford Motor Co. to hammer out an agreement over its affirmative action policies. Today, Ford is still inking agreements with Jackson, but these involve advertising support for the preacher-politician's newest incarnation as a television talk show host.
"Ford has agreed to purchase commercial time on Jesse Jackson's first two shows," said Kathryn Blackwell, a spokeswoman for Ford. "We've done so on a trial basis and will re-evaluate future buys based on what we see once the show has debuted."
While media critics are abuzz about the upcoming Battle of Bart and Bill (as in "Simpson" and "Cosby"), advertisers are talking about the prospect of a black, liberal politician and preacher serving as an advertising vehicle, of sorts, for national companies.
The syndicated "Jesse Jackson Show," which debuts Sept. 30, is proving a tough sell for Warner Brothers, the show's distributor.
"Media buyers get ahead in life by buying time on shows that aren't going to put their clients in the middle of controversy," said Karl Kuechenmeister, senior vice president of media sales at Warner. "There are certain fears that Jesse's show is going to be too controversial, but once the show debuts, I think many of those fears will disappear."
Kuechenmeister said that all 14 30-second spots reserved for national advertising on the first few shows were sold. He said that many advertisers were waiting to see the content of the show before they made longer commitments.
When the show was introduced at this year's National Association of Television Program Executives convention in January, many ad executives were skeptical.
"The first response was, 'Oh, no. If we don't advertise, he'll sic PUSH on us. If we do, we'll get nasty letters from right-wing consumers wanting to know why we're supporting Jesse Jackson,' " said a media director at a large agency.
This concern is not unwarranted given that corporate financial support for another Jesse Sen. Helms has resulted in a big public relations headache for Philip Morris.
Ford, along with Procter & Gamble, Smith-Kline Beecham and Nestle, have purchased air time on Jackson's syndicated show.