She Followed Her Heart–All the Way to MTV

Dara Cook has worked with Eminem and Tracy Morgan. She helped Carson Daly achieve stardom as host of MTV’s Total Request Live. She is one of the creative minds behind the network’s hugely popular Video Music Awards, which is annually one of the most buzzed-about events in show business.

She’s also a Wharton grad who spent her undergraduate years studying … marketing.

So what, exactly, should current Wharton students take away from Cook’s unique career path?

“That there are things you can do with your career that are different than normal careers and jobs companies offer when they’re recruiting at Penn,” says Cook, W’95, a Head Consultant and Writer for MTV Networks who spoke to Penn students on Nov. 19 as part of the Penn Alumni Multicultural Outreach Career Spotlight. “When I was in school, the big things were the consulting firms and the banks, but I was always the one looking for the odd opportunities. I don’t think people are necessarily looking for these kinds of opportunities, but I want to show students that there are other ways to approach your career.”

That’s certainly what Cook did.

After initially landing at Ziff-Davis Publishing group, she moved on to Time Inc. where she worked in marketing for such titles as Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated and Money. But she soon realized her heart was in writing, not marketing. So she took her first career risk: She quit her marketing job and decided to start a writing career—from scratch. “I knew I had to do what I loved to do,” she says.

Fortunately for Cook, she made the decision just the dot-com revolution hit. New sites were popping up left and right, and they all needed content. Which meant they needed writers, too. Cook’s career took off.

“It was a great time to be a writer,” says Cook, who was both a Joseph Wharton Scholar and a Benjamin Franklin Scholar during her time at Penn. “There was a lot of money out there. Too much money, probably. … The one thing I would say about Wharton is that I think my time there gave me a certain level of presence of mind about what was going on in the market that maybe other creative people didn’t.”

That presence of mind paid off, too, when Cook was faced with her next big career decision. MTV came calling with two different job offers: One as editor of MTV.com, the other as a junior-level writer for MTV’s television division. Though the dot-come job offered more pizzazz, more power and more perks, Cook, sensing all wasn’t well in the dot-com world, opted for the television job.

“I remember somebody telling me I was a fool—that the dot-com where was the future was at … that television was dying,” she says.

Five weeks later, MTV.com announced sweeping layoffs. Among those laid off was the editor.

“And there I was on the television side, and it was all great,” Cook says. “I’ve been there ever since.

“I’ve arranged my career in [such] a way that I have a lot of freedom. I can work on a bunch of different projects. It’s not the same thing forever. That’s what I love about MTV. It’s always different. Not new and improved. It’s just completely different.”

  • Connie

    Thanks for sharing this. I hope to be as confident as Cook one day.

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