By Brook Cammarata
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Balancing two professions at once sounds like an overwhelming and unrealistic task for most. However, for state Sen.Tanya Cook, the 51-year-old president of City Girl Communications, that was reality.
Since 2003, Cook has run her own public relations firm in Omaha, where she grew up. Since 2009, she has also represented District 13 in the Legislature, which meets for several months each year. This legislative session was the last for Cook because she reached her term limit.
Cook has balanced and thrived with her two passions.
She has used her public relations knowledge to help run her campaigns and promote herself and her legislative bills.
For some, keeping the two career paths separate and making sure boundaries aren’t crossed would be difficult. For Cook, it’s all part of the territory.
She has learned to stay clear of legislative bills that could interfere or cause any kind of backlash with her other career.
Cook has served on numerous committees and is the first of two African-American females to be elected. She is known for her soothing, articulate and well-spoken debate on the Legislature floor.
“I have been lucky. I haven’t had any hard votes in terms of overlap with my career with City Girl,” said Cook in a recent interview.
Cook has also made many strides in the public relations world. Her one-woman company, City Girl Communications, has been retained by the City of Omaha to help the African-American community regarding the Combined Sewer Overflow project. City Girl Communications has also assisted in targeting outreach for a long-term redevelopment project led by the Greater Omaha Commerce in North Omaha.
Cook originally fell in love with advertising and public relations while majoring in international business and concentrating on marketing at Georgetown University. This new love helped her make the decision to focus her career goals on public relations.
In 1987, Cook took the plunge with a good friend and moved to New York City. There she took a job with N.W. Ayer, an advertising agency, where she started off stuffing press kits, researching audiences and staffing events. While working for N.W. Ayer, she also interviewed people for the company newsletter. This helped her realize her passion for the writing and the public relation side of ad agencies.
Cook left N.W. Ayer for a smaller PR firm in order to gain more experience. With the new firm she began to work on non-profit projects for organizations such as the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.
“I was really more interested in using my skills for non-profits and for causes, than more business corporate interests,” said Cook.
The smaller firm allowed her to connect more with audiences and organizations. In 1989, it helped connect her with her first political campaign when David Dinkins became New York City's first black mayor.
Cook moved back to Omaha in 1990, where she continued to follow her passions for public relations and politics. She worked for Brenda Council’s city council campaign. She wrote press releases and set up placements and special events.
“With a slogan like ‘Council for Council’ how could you lose? Well, we won!” said Cook.
Cook stayed with Council’s campaign, working with her while she ran for mayor. However, after the loss she went to work for then-Gov. Mike Johanns as the director of urban affairs - a post she held from 1999 to 2006.
She handled bill-related work, but spent a lot of time with community relations and face time on the governor's behalf. During that time, she founded City Girl Communications, which specializes in public participation public relations.
In 2008, Cook ran for the state Senate and drew from campaign work experiences and also used her public relations skills. She targeted her audience and drafted messages and flyers.
Cook said her final goodbyes on the Legislature floor on April 20, 2016. While she may be done at the Legislature, she is still running City Girl Communications. She also hopes to write a book on how to run for a political office, showcasing her writing skills, public relations knowledge and political experience.
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