As the head of her self-named public relations firm, Simone Cooper keeps a busy schedule. Last year, her work with authors, media companies and artists had her traveling to New York City at least once a month. And when she’s not working, Cooper devotes her spare time to planning and overseeing Elizabeth City’s Mariners’ Wharf Film Festival, which opens its sixth season this June. Where does this energetic entrepreneur turn for reflection and inspiration? Here hometown, Elizabeth City, from which she draws both calm and creativity.
You’re from Elizabeth City originally, but lived and worked in NYC for most of your career. What’s it like being back in the “Harbor of Hospitality”?
Elizabeth City is a quintessential southern American small town. It’s the kind of place where complete strangers say, “Good Morning” and ask how your day is going. The residents are friendly. I feel very connected to the community.
Tell us about your background in publishing and public relations…
One month after graduating from college, I left Chapel Hill, N.C. and moved to New York. I landed my first job in publishing at one of the imprints within Random House. I was the assistant to the director of publicity. I learned so much in that position because I saw everything that crossed my boss’s desk. I was promoted to an associate publicist after a year and then to publicist a year after that. I then worked at HarperCollins as a senior publicist and then went to Doubleday as publicity manager with a team of people reporting to me. I eventually launched my own company and 20 years later, I still work with authors but also media companies, visual and performing artists, nonprofits and small businesses.
What projects have been the most fulfilling?
It would be impossible for me to pick a favorite project because I’ve enjoyed numerous ones over the years, but I generally get excited about projects with ‘teeth’ or those that can tie into issues of the day and the current political landscape. I’m a huge news and political junkie so whenever I can weave a client’s message or mission into headlines of the day, so they are viewed as an expert rather than just a spokesperson or salesman, feel I’ve done my job well.
Four years ago, you started the Mariners’ Wharf Film Festival. What inspired you to do so?
The Mariners’ Wharf Film Festival was launched during the summer of 2009 so we’re about to open our sixth season. I was inspired by the awesome Bryant Park Festival in New York, which I enjoyed attending while I lived there. I missed the festival and realized there was no reason we couldn’t have the same type of event in Elizabeth City. I mentioned the idea to some friends during the fall of 2008 and they were very excited about the prospect and encouraged me to get is started. I decided that night I was going to make it happen the following summer. Through the generosity of many people who donated services, time and money, the event was born. In 2010, I was able to partner with Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc., which allowed the festival to have corporate sponsors. It’s been gratifying to watch the festival grow year after year.
Elizabeth City residents have really embraced the festival. Why is such a project good for the community?
I get a lot of feedback about the festival
and one of the things everyone seems to appreciate most is the fact that both children and adults can enjoy the free films, which are American classics from the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. At the festival, you will see a complete demographic cross section of Elizabeth City with every age group and ethnicity represented. Plus, it’s just good old-fashioned fun to sit under the stars and watch Hollywood icons of a bygone era with the smell of popcorn wafting in the summer air.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I’ve never met a flea market I didn’t love and I visit them wherever I am, in the U.S. and abroad. I’m also obsessed with mid-century modern design and architecture and love learning about it. If I could have a second career, I would definitely be an architect, no doubt about it.
What do you enjoy most about living and working in Elizabeth City?
The calm surroundings, which are good for my overall well-being, and the
creative process. I’ve plotted out some of my best campaign strategies while sitting by the river.
From a business perspective, what are Elizabeth City’s most appealing assets?
Everyone is buzzy about the power of social media for business success but the power of positive word-of-mouth in Elizabeth City trumps social media any day. Within such a close-knit community, you get all the information you need from local residents about businesses in town. Word-of-mouth is a valuable commodity here.
Okay, we have to know …what is your favorite book, and what is your favorite film?
Again, it’s hard to pick just one but I would say “To Kill a Mockingbird” is near the top of both lists. The story, after all these decades, is still relevant and very compelling. I also love “Howard’s End” which I’ve seen countless times. I never, ever get tired of watching that film. I can smell the wisteria on that cottage.