PROFILE: Polite preaches the importance of integrity in PR

Tina Polite rarely stayed at one job very long. But as executive director of PR for the Potter's House, she's found a message - and a minister - that inspires.

Tina Polite rarely stayed at one job very long. But as executive director of PR for the Potter's House, she's found a message - and a minister - that inspires.

Ofield Dukes, president of an eponymous PR firm in Washington, DC, describes Tina Polite as a classy lady. This sentiment rings true for her immaculate, tastefully decorated home, located across the street from a golf course in an affluent Dallas suburb. "Everything [with Tina] has to be done with style and in a first-class manner," says Dukes, chair of the PRSA's diversity advisory board. "That reflects the philosophy of [her boss] Bishop T.D. Jakes." Jakes is a top-selling Christian author, a Grammy-nominated singer, a playwright, and the larger-than-life driving force behind the Potter's House, a 28,000-member mega-church in Dallas for which Polite serves as executive director of PR and communications. A successful businessman to boot, the Pentecostal Jakes is considered by some as the next Rev. Billy Graham. Polite says she's good at talking people into seeing things her way. After favorably impressing an executive at Harrah's Entertainment, she turned down a job or two before a PR manager's position was created just for her. Jakes, however, was another story. When Polite first visited Dallas, she wanted to serve the Potter's House from her adopted home of New Orleans. Although Polite describes Jakes as gracious and humble, his willpower and personality proved formidable. He wanted someone to work in Dallas as part of the church family. "I thought about the Wizard of Oz, and I thought I was Dorothy or the Tin Man. I just wondered if anybody could hear my knees shaking," laughs Polite, who told her husband he should start packing for Texas. Her four years at the Potter's House represent Polite's longest tenure in any job, except for freelancing and working with her husband, Richard, in his video production company. Together, the couple penned the screenplay for the independent Christian film Heart of Stone, and they are now collaborating on a dramatic, multimedia work on the life of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. She caught the writing bug from her father, a military man and entrepreneur. Growing up in New Jersey, she remembers watching her dad use an old typewriter on the dining table to write articles for the Army, and later to share his views with government agencies or other organizations. Freelancing and working for the family business gave Polite the chance to spend time with her three children, the oldest of whom now attends Oral Roberts University and "doesn't seem to be able to come home alone," she says. Former youth ministers, the Polites mentor several young friends and take the family on mission trips. Polite describes herself as a project-oriented PR gunslinger who moves quickly from one challenge to the next. But at the Potter's House, Polite found enough challenges under one roof to hold her interest. "I don't get bored," she says. "It's like you have a new position and a new job every year." The Potter's House maintains nearly 50 ministries that range from prison outreach to Toastmasters. Polite stays on her toes keeping up with Jakes' daily and weekly broadcasts, his concerts, and his conference tours. The largest conference yet is scheduled for June - a "Mega Fest" that will combine Jakes' popular "Woman, Thou Art Loosed" series with his "ManPower" conference and a youth rally. Together with T.D. Jakes Ministries, the Potter's House works with Burson-Marsteller for national and international outreach to secular markets, Atlanta's DeMoss Group to reach Christian audiences, and Dukes to target middle- to upper-income African Americans. Internally, Polite has grown her PR staff to include three other members. Carolyn Miller, who serves as PR and communications director, has previously worked with Pat Robertson and the Children's Television Network. Polite's primary goal is to frame Jakes as a "messenger of hope and encouragement to the world," she says. She also describes Jakes as a "leader to leaders," be they heads of state or housewives. Although Jakes has been called to the White House on occasion, Polite stresses the importance of the minister's apolitical status. Convincing people that politics and religion are two separate things can prove difficult in a society that often melds the two. Jakes' methods are not always as traditional as his theology. Presenting the gospel through drama, music, books, and other venues might take some adherents of old-time religion by surprise. "Christ was nontraditional in terms of evangelism," Polite says. "I think of Bishop in that way." Jakes' financial success also gives some observers pause. "People are always questioning what the money motives are," explains Dallas Diggs of Thomas Nelson Publishers, which publishes a Bible for Jakes. "He not only has a strong religious following, but a strong business following, and helping people understand the demarcation between marketing, business, and ministry and how they help one another is critical." Unlike fallen prosperity theology icons such as Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jakes makes sure everybody knows he has income streams other than preaching. Also unlike these others, Jakes doesn't preach about giving to receive, but about empowering individuals toward success. He displays his affluence as an example to his followers. Polite doesn't see Jakes' wealth as problematic since he is up-front about his for-profit business, and she makes it clear that she does not work for those ventures. "Bishop has always been so transparent about his business and his life," says Polite, who believes such integrity and openness also are vital to the PR profession. "We must have a sense of ethics to ourselves, and we have to stick to that. We're not always going to be popular." ----- Tina Polite 1987-1988 Executive assistant in office of civic affairs at Ford World Headquarters in Detroit 1988-1994 Focuses on freelancing and working at Polite Communications 1995-1996 PR manager, Harrah's Entertainment, New Orleans 1996-1999 Marketing director, Polite Communications 1999-2000 PR manager, Jazzland Theme Park, New Orleans 1999-present Executive director of PR and comms, The Potter's House, Dallas

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