e’Andrea “Kiki” Ayers ’08 has had some ups and downs, but you’d never know it to look at her. In fact, no one on the red carpets of Los Angeles suspected she was homeless for 14 months before launching her public relations firm Ayers Publicity.
“I had a following on Instagram and I would borrow clothes from boutiques (in exchange for promoting them on social media) and get my hair done at salons and I looked like I belonged on the red carpet,” she said. The truth was the well-coiffed freelance reporter was in and out of hostels, crashing on friends’ couches and eventually spent the night in a hotel bathroom stall, shivering and wondering how she’d gotten there.
Two years later, her firm boasts a celebrity-packed client list, she’s launching a clothing line for stars who want to dress their kids for the red carpet and she’s recently become a mother for the first time.
“My mindset is if I lose it today, I’ll get it back tomorrow,” she said. “Because I’ve lost everything before, I’m less fearful. At the same time, it keeps me humble. No one’s better than anyone. We can all lose everything tomorrow.”
Ayers grew up in Bremerton, where she was also homeless for a few months at age 16 after her mom fell behind on the rent. She attended Olympic College as a Running Start student, in part because many of her high school friends had gotten pregnant and were attending an alternative school.
“OC prepared me to go to college,” she said, recalling that she struggled in English and biology her first quarter until she taught herself how to study and raised both grades to A’s. “OC had amazing professors who stuck with you and didn’t give up on you. I felt I could do anything after that quarter.”
She’d planned to transfer to Washington State University with her best friend, Ashlee Moore, but went to Howard University instead after Moore was killed in a car accident. As a broadcast journalism major, she landed internships at media heavy hitters like MTV, BET and NBC. After graduation, she worked for The Jerry Springer Showand MTV in New York City.
“My mindset is if I lose it today, I’ll get it back tomorrow. Because I’ve lost everything before, I’m less fearful.”
An offer from rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs took her to L.A. to help launch music cable network REVOLT TV. She managed music programming then content, while also doing red-carpet interviews after hours to build her reporting resume. She left after Revolt started cutting staff and that’s when she went from a pricey loft apartment to the hotel bathroom stall.
That night of soul-searching inspired Ayers to become a publicist. She’d already been helping friends with public relations for free and had extensive media contacts. She earned $300 for her first job and now charges a $3,000 retainer for such assignments as managing press events for ESPN’s ESPY awards and orchestrating birthday parties for boxer Floyd Mayweather and actor Jamie Foxx.
The celebrity events help pay the bills, but Ayers is most passionate about promoting women and people of color. Her website touts a story she helped place on Forbes.com about a 16-year-old black, female entrepreneur. “So many men get recognition in Forbes, but it’s really women who are the backbone of a lot of these companies and they’re not getting the recognition they deserve,” she said.
Ayers shared her own story as a keynote speaker at OC’s 2018 Diversity Conference. Part of her message: You can overcome life’s setbacks. “Any emotion you’re feeling, use it,” she said. “Take the bad things that happen and transform them. I did. I turned pain into profit.”