T.D. Jakes’ name came up in conversation recently at a small gathering of high-powered Dallas businesswomen. Several had no idea who the guy is.
When it comes to the Dallas business community, the pastoral leader of one of the world’s largest megachurches still has identity issues.
People usually think of T.D. Jakes as the senior pastor of the Potter’s House, a nondenominational Christian church in southern Dallas that he founded in 1996. With Jakes at the pulpit, the church has grown from about 50 families to 30,000 local members and an estimated 5 million TV and online followers worldwide. Time magazine once named him “America’s Best Preacher.”
But he’s much less recognized as CEO of TDJ Enterprises, a growing inspirational and spiritual empire that encompasses film, television, radio, books and a leadership school. His Hollywood connections include producing the 2011 movie Winnie Mandela, starring Jennifer Hudson, and the 2012 remake of Sparkle, featuring Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston.
His low business profile is one reason that it’s been a bit of a struggle to drum up local business sponsorship for his MegaFest, the extended-weekend, family-oriented festival of faith, education, health and entertainment that kicks off downtown Thursday.
“T.D. Jakes is much better-known in certain circles around the country and internationally than he is in his own community,” says Phillip Jones, CEO of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau. “That’s one of the challenges and one of the opportunities that we have — to introduce him to the business community as an entrepreneur and less as the bishop.”
MegaFest 2013 pretty much came and went without much notice from Big D’s business community. Jakes and city leaders realized that the charismatic pastor needed greater visibility among Dallas’ movers and shakers.
“This time around,” Jakes says, “we made a concerted effort to work more closely with the Dallas business community and to outline the business case for MegaFest 2015. The increased percentage of locally based sponsors coming on board this year shows the trajectory of that effort, whereas in the past, our support has largely come from national sponsors from outside the state.”
Jones and Dale Petroskey, CEO of the Dallas Regional Chamber, spent the last year leading a wide-scale effort to embed Jakes into the business elite. The convention bureau assembled more than 80 local business leaders to act as the host committee for MegaFest. And Jakes was appointed to a three-year chamber board term in January.
“T.D. brings us big-picture thinking, a sharp business mind and a knowledge of several industries, including entertainment and publishing,” Petroskey says. “As a board member, he has been more active than some but not as active as others. When he does attend, his presence is definitely felt.”
Derrick Williams, executive vice president of TDJ Enterprises, says his boss’s appointment to the chamber board was particularly effective in the reimagining effort. “It highlighted his success as a businessman and helped shatter perceptions that he is a southern Dallas pastor with whom they could not relate.”
Another issue: MegaFest is perceived as a praise-Jesus revival of epic proportions — with “tents” at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and American Airlines Center.
Mixing in the secular
Yes, MegaFest is faith-based, Jones says. But there are also sessions on education, career planning, personal finance, franchising, entertainment, health care, wellness, the glass ceiling and more.
“Some companies are reluctant to support what they consider a religious event, so that’s why we’re trying to showcase that there are so many other aspects that aren’t faith-based,” Jones says.
Tyler Perry’s new stage play, Madea on the Run, which began touring in March, will be performed Friday night.
One of my faves: Barbers and stylists will battle for supremacy in creativity, speed, innovation and style with $25,000 in prizes at stake.
Another major component is its International Faith & Family Film Festival, which includes panel discussions, training sessions and movie screenings.
So why is it important for Dallas to embrace Jakes and MegaFest?
The 85,000 men, women and kids who are expected to show up will be more than three times the number of ladies in pink who attended the Mary Kay convention here last month.
The convention bureau estimates that they’ll spend at least $41 million on food, hotels, transportation and shopping in the dead of summer, when the convention business typically evaporates with the Texas heat.
Petroskey thinks the festival will help the local film industry, too.
MegaFest support has come from big companies like Coca-Cola and Prudential. Williams would like North Texas’ multinationals to come on board, too. But so far, big names like Kimberly-Clark, AT&T and Verizon aren’t on the MegaFest roster.
Jones says these brands might be missing a good bet. “We looked at the demographics, and most attendees were in the $50,000 to $150,000 annual income range,” he said.
Local donations are up more than 50 percent from MegaFest 2013, says LaToyia Dennis, who is marshaling Jakes’ sponsorship drive. Most of the participants are health care-related companies. Children’s Health, Methodist Health System, Texas Health Resources, Parkland Health & Hospital System and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas are sponsoring wellness seminars, medical screenings and a health pavilion.
Dennis says she tries not to show her shock when a potential sponsor asks whether Jakes is a big deal. “I say, ‘Yeah, he is.’ They still tie Bishop to being a bishop and not T.D. Jakes.”
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SOURCE: The Dallas Morning News – Cheryl Hall