From Homeless to Entrepreneurship: One Woman's Journey On Starting Her Own PR Company
By Khadejah Stegall
If you need encouragement on how tough times won’t last forever, Kiki Ayers’ story is for you. Ayers went from being homeless and living out of a car in high school to becoming a first generation graduate at Howard University and successful entrepreneur. Ayers has her own Los Angeles-based public relations company, Ayers Publicity which made its first six figures with no team in less than six months by investing 90% of all revenue back into the company. She spent a year researching as much as possible about investments and revenue growth by consuming herself in Small Business articles and attending money advisory workshops. Currently Ayers is on track to making her first million by 2020 and plans to expand to Atlanta and New York by next fall. Her clients include but aren't limited to Cash Money Records & Grammy Award Winner Sy Ari Da Kid, comedic actor Haha Davis, Basketball Wives LA's DJ Duffey and more. Her first PR assignment with her company was for Russell Simmons' company All Def Digital. Ayers has worked for entertainment moguls such as Sean "Diddy" Combs and Jerry Springer. Her work in production led to journalism where she currently reports for everyone from Bossip and Baller Alert to Global Grind and HBCU Buzz. This year alone she has interviewed everyone from Kevin Hart, Will Ferrell and Ben Affleck to Nas, Jamie Foxx and Queen Latifah. Read more on Ayers’ story for her journey and advice on taking off in the media industry, how her business thrived by taking advantage of help around her and meeting Oprah Winfrey for the first time.
You went from being homeless, to a college student, to a successful entrepreneur. Can you tell us a little bit about that journey?
I was homeless many times throughout my childhood and that's what motivated me to go to college. I was a first generation college graduate so for me it wasn't about going to college to get an education as first. It was more of an alternative to get out of a bad situation and to get out of the small town of Bremerton, Washington. I never thought I would be an entrepreneur.
You were really successful in the media industry and worked at a lot of great companies. What inspired you to start Ayers Publicity?
It wasn't until I worked so many corporate jobs that I realized corporate wasn't for me. I was unhappy at my job and that motivated me to pursue journalism full-time. Through that, I learned a lot about PR and when I realized I was good at it, it just made sense to start my own company. I still pursue media full-time while running a business full-time. A lot of times people try to make me choose between journalism and PR but to me that's just them trying to limit me. It's hard to do both but it's also rewarding to do both.
You had the opportunity to meet Oprah! What was that experience like and did she give you the push you needed to start Ayers Publicity?
Meeting Oprah was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. It was at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Event and L'Oreal invited me to attend. That event was so amazing because there's so much that Black women go through in Hollywood that's often ignored and not discussed. That year they were honoring Tracee Ellis Ross, Debbie Allen and Nina Shaw. To hear their stories of everything they went through to get to where they are today was so amazing to me. I was currently homeless during this time and they sent a car service to pick me up. They picked me up from a hotel I was staying in. I looked around the room and saw Kelly Rowland at the next table. Zendaya and Tia Mowry were there at the table in front of me. All I kept thinking was why am I in this room? Why am I deserving of this? At that very moment, Oprah was speaking on stage and she said everyone that is here today is here for a reason. Afterwards, I had the chance to meet Oprah and take a quick selfie with her. I left that event feeling more motivated than ever.
Can you talk about the challenges you faced when you first started Ayers Publicity?
When I first started Ayers Publicity, the biggest challenge I faced was being taken seriously. I can honestly say the only person that believed in me and the idea was my sister. I had no PR experience or background. I learned strictly from trial and error. Being an entertainment reporter was my advantage though because I don't have to work to build "connections." These people are my friends and when they saw me moving they were nothing but supportive. I don't like asking anyone for anything so I tried to reach out to people I didn't know and it wasn't working out. It wasn't until I started utilizing the people around me that I started getting amazing results. My clients have been featured in everything from Forbes, Huffington Post and Entertainment Tonight to COMPLEX, Vibe magazine and Ebony. I spend endless hours pitching my clients and really dedicating my time to working for them and giving them the attention they need.
What was the most memorable and rewarding interview you did?
The most memorable and rewarding interview I did was hands down Samuel L. Jackson. There's a difference between having a good interview and having and interviewing a great person. From him, I got both. I was so nervous because everyone made it seem like he was going to be intimidating but the thing I learned the most from interviewing is that people feed off the energy you give them. On the inside, I was so nervous but I walked into the interview with so much energy and confidence and so I got that in return from Mr. Jackson.
How did it feel when you got your first PR assignment for your company and how did you get it?
I got my first PR assignment from my company when my friend asked me to do PR for All Def Digital's first movie. All Def Digital is Russell Simmons' digital platform company that he's heavily involved with so I felt two things: I was super excited and very nervous. It was my first assignment so I was in disbelief that it was with Russell Simmons. I wanted to execute it well so that caused me to stress myself out a bit. In the end, it all turned out great. I surpassed their expectations and that's the motivation I needed to take me to the next level.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to break into the media industry, but also stay true to themselves?
If you really want to stay true to yourself, then do it. I think for years as journalists we were taught that you have to look a certain way, speak a certain way and act a certain way. It's almost robotic the way they train you. Today we're seeing so many people on camera that are household names because they are unapologetically themselves. Being yourself is in now. Look at Cardi B, Issa Rae, Chance The Rapper and LiL Yachty. They didn't change for anyone and now they are capitalizing off of it like crazy.
What are you doing daily to meet your goal of making your first million by 2020?
I read this quote every morning which is "People who buy things they don't need are stealing from themselves." The reason I'm on my way to making my first million is because I don't spend money on things I want, but on things I need. In return, I live off of the most inexpensive things. I don't pay myself and I don’t touch the money I generate from my business. To me, it doesn't exist. The first time I pay myself I want it to be seven or eight digits. That's the motivation and daily routine to get to a million.
Khadejah Stegall is a college mommy blogger that inspires others to achieve the impossible through the power of Jesus. She enjoys family time, eating vegan meals when it's convenient and mentoring others on professional development. To be inspired by more post, follow her blog at khadejahstegall.com.