As Allied Education was preparing its 1987 fall advertising campaign, owner Glenn J. Rodano decided that a celebrity spokesman might be just the thing to boost enrollment at the chain of vocational schools.
The events that followed caused a nationwide flap, providing the little-known Costa Mesa company with exposure far beyond its expectations.
Rodano asked Hal Asher, a Los Angeles advertising executive, to find someone who would appeal to the mostly minority student population at Allied's 22 schools, which are located from California to New York.
Asher came back with a quick answer.
"I said that without question, the best spokesperson to help them would be Jesse Jackson," Asher said. "If you know anything about what he stands for, it's for the underprivileged and disadvantaged. He believes people should pick themselves up by the bootstraps and do something for themselves."
Rodano concurred. "Many of our students are minority," he said, "and he's larger than life to them and also to many of our faculty. He's one of the few candidates who cuts across racial lines."
But would the Democratic presidential hopeful consent to becoming a paid spokesman for a relatively obscure group of vocational schools?
To Rodano's surprise, Jackson accepted the offer to appear in television, radio and newspaper advertisements promoting Allied. He signed an 18-month contract to represent the company.
"He agreed to (appear in the ads) for exactly the same reason we asked him to do it," Rodano said.
But Jackson would soon regret his decision.
When the Jackson ads began appearing in several U. S. newspapers in early October, they sparked an immediate controversy. Some critics questioned Jackson's judgment for agreeing to be a spokesman for a private organization at the same time he was seeking the presidency.
One reporter, comparing the Allied agreement to the problems that derailed the presidential bids of Gary Hart and Joseph Biden, suggested that the Democratic candidates had an apparent proclivity to "womanize, plagiarize and advertise."
Fewer than 24 hours after announcing the ad campaign, Allied officials agreed to postpone the promotional campaign at Jackson's request.
One of the Jackson ads, which appeared in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and several other newspapers before Allied called off the campaign, features a Jackson photo beside the quotation: "I want you to be somebody, and you can if you try . . . Pick up that phone and call now!"
Jackson, who is known for his slogan, "Put hope in your brains, not dope in your veins," also has taped a message to be used in TV commercials and in-class anti-drug programs at Allied's schools.
Jackson declined through a spokesperson to be interviewed about the Allied deal. In public comments several weeks ago, however, Jackson said he asked the company to withdraw the ads because he didn't want the controversy to overshadow broader educational issues in the presidential campaign.
But Jackson may yet appear on Allied's behalf.
Allied officials said Friday that they have reached an agreement with Jackson to resume the ad campaign if he withdraws from the race or fails to gain the Democratic nomination. The company said it agreed not to run the ads while Jackson remains in the race or if he is elected president.
"The Rev. Jackson has also agreed to allow us to use the anti-drug message inside our classrooms," said Roger N. Williams, Allied's director of operations. "And he has agreed to make appearances at some of our schools in conjunction with student voter registration drives, when his schedule permits."
Allied officials had contended all along that their contract with Jackson would have allowed them to resume the ads at any time, even if Jackson objected. "We asked him to consider that, but we didn't push it," Williams said.
Neither party would discuss how much Jackson will be paid under the contract. An Allied spokesman said only that the firm invested a "substantial amount" in the ad campaign.
Meanwhile, the flap has resulted in a public relations coup for what had been a "quiet little company," Williams said.
When the controversy began, Allied's name was mentioned on network broadcasts and in newspaper articles. "It's unusual for someone in my position to get a message that says so and so from Dan Rather's office wants to talk to you," Williams said.
According to Rodano, the company and its schools "received a heckuva lot of exposure both locally and nationally. This is exposure a small or mid-sized company couldn't possibly afford to buy."
Allied officials credit the publicity for a sharp enrollment increase this fall. "The number of inquiries about courses has picked up significantly," Williams said. "We're very visible now. We have a national identity that we never had or ever sought."
Allied operates chains of schools under the names Barclay College, Barclay Career Schools, Lawton Schools, First Business Schools and Professional Career Centers.