by John Trybus, Managing Director

Being the Mayor of Chicago’s press secretary means you must be tough, able to think on your feet, and have superb storytelling abilities. While Tarrah Cooper meets all of those qualifications there’s another trait she possesses that makes her unique: she’s a social strategist.

This week’s episode of the Social Strategist was recorded on location at Chicago’s City Hall and features an exclusive interview with Tarrah (full disclosure: we were high school classmates and friends!) about what it’s really like to serve as the press secretary to Rahm Emanuel, whose path to power was one of the most discussed political races of the last election cycle.

For this social strategist, becoming press secretary was the fulfillment of a uniquely American story.

“My grandparents came to Chicago from Arkansas during the Great Migration” to escape the Jim Crow laws and oppression to find work in Chicago, she explains. To work for the same city that gave her family the opportunity of freedom is a full circle experience in many ways. “I’m really blessed to be the press secretary for what I think is the greatest city in the greatest country in the world.”

Tarrah and I also spoke about what cause-based communicators can learn from the work of city hall. Here’s a preview of her tips:

  • It’s all about storytelling: Never forget that telling stories is the best way to reach someone’s head, and more importantly their heart. “It’s so impactful if you make people feel what others are feeling. I think that’s success,” Tarrah says.
  • Get to know targeted media outlets: There’s no substitute to reading and watching the outlets that you wish to work with and doing your homework, according to Tarrah. Understanding media outlets and building relationships with reporters helps a practitioner achieve and shape coverage. Another result? “On a good day I can know the front page of what both papers are going to be and what’s leading the newscasts,” she explains.
  • Spend time to understand a community’s pulse: To Tarrah this principle is a simple one if you are interested in reaching new audiences: “to get the pulse you have to be in the community and that’s something you can’t take for granted.” Going to lunch in different communities is one way to do this. Mayor Emmanuel also hosts regular media roundtables specifically for smaller community and specialty ethnic niche media outlets.

Tarrah and her colleagues must be doing something right. One recent poll has Mayor Emanuel’s approval rating at 79 percent and social issues, especially education, have become a cornerstone of the administration’s work.

Listen to my conversation with social strategist Tarrah Cooper to learn more about her work as press secretary, to find out what Mayor Emanuel is really like, and to hear other tips that cause-based communicators can learn from city hall.