Mike Cohen: Making clients wildly happy

Sandra ClarkOur Town Leaders, West Knoxville

A guy in Knoxville helped the state of Tennessee gain $2.5 billion in fiscal year 2021.

He is Mike Cohen, public relations specialist and owner of Cohen Communications Group, and the $2.5 billion is this writer’s best guess.

Cohen shrugs when asked about the Alliance for Main Street Fairness and its 2011 campaign to prevent Amazon.com from an exemption in collecting state sales tax in exchange for its promise to build two distribution centers in the state.

Mike Cohen

“Ward Baker (of Nashville) and I were hired to represent retailers with actual buildings and employees – Main Street USA,” he recalled. “It was wrong to give Amazon a 9.75% competitive advantage over our local businesses.”

Baker handled the politics and Cohen worked on messaging. On May 9, 2011, the team prevailed. And the state has collected sales tax on website sales ever since.

“Can you imagine what the pandemic would have done to the sales tax,” Cohen asked, referencing the business closures and consumer shifts to online purchases. “It’s a good thing we got it changed.”

Cohen is optimistic. On LinkedIn he writes his business philosophy: “Make my current clients wildly happy and, by doing so, attract more great clients.”

Who are Cohen’s clients? He mentioned these.

  • AMRAmerican Medical Response, a national firm with some 38,000 employees. The company owns Rural Metro Fire and, as AMR, has the emergency services contract for Knox County.
  • KaTomKaTom Restaurant Supply Inc. based in Kodak, Tennessee. Founded in 1987, the company has more than 130,000 items on its virtual and physical shelves, and sales of $500 million.
  • FirstBank – Formerly Clayton Bank in Knox County, FirstBank has grown with local leadership from Halls guys Travis Edmondson, chief banking officer, and Brent Ball, Knoxville market president.
  • Boston Government Services – An Oak Ridge-based cybersecurity firm founded in 2007 by Harry L. Boston, Ph.D.

Mike Cohen (no relation to the Michael Cohen who worked for Donald Trump) came to Knoxville in 1993 to work for then-Mayor Victor Ashe. He went on to work for Knox County Schools and two public relations agencies before starting his own firm in 2011.

Cohen tries to help his clients learn about government. “Most of us know that 2+2=4. But in government, 2+2 can equal kumquat. Why? Maybe it’s a feud or friendship that goes back 30 years.”

Cohen Communications Group is about understanding our clients, operating with honesty and getting results, Cohen says. When he opened his own firm, the folks from Main Street Fairness sent him a dollar bill they had all signed. “My first dollar,” he says with a grin.

Yes, one more wildly happy client.

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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