Cherisse Jamison, better known by her alias “Aye Yo Kells,” is one of the most sought after entertainment publicists in the country. With a long list of clients that have included Vivica Fox, Hillary Clinton, Armani Caesar, Masika Kalysha, 21 Savage, Boosie Badazz, and more – how could she not be?
But this wasn’t always the PR maven’s reality. At just 12-years-old, she learned that she was adopted. At 21-years-old, she sought out to uncover her adoption records and locate her biological family.
Upon reconnecting with her birth mother and moving into her home, Kells soon found her dreams of forging a healthy relationship and making up for lost time, shattered. In an exclusive interview with xoNecole, she revealed that her birth mother was “very narcissistic,” “a scammer,” and “neglectful.”
One day, Kells overheard her mother talking on the phone: “I never came looking for her, she was looking for me… I wish she would go back to the people she came from.” The rejection from her birth mother would ultimately push her into the grasps of an abusive relationship.
Read as Kells shares her first-hand advice in escaping domestic violence, what inspired her to delve into the world of public relations, what she believes are the three keys to being a successful publicist in the industry, and so much more!
Jadriena Solomon: You are a businesswoman who has been seeing tremendous success with your long list of notable clients and projects. But this wasn’t always your reality – your present day success was actually born out of your vigor to escape abuse – both romantically and from your biological mother. Can you tell us more about that period in your life?
Aye Yo Kells: I was in a very dark space at that time – having the opportunity to finally find my birth family, and then my mother not treating me the way I expected. It wasn’t the response that I was hoping for, nor was it the response that I had always dreamed about. When I came in contact with my birth mother, she was very abusive and that traumatized me. It made me feel like I had mother issues, even though I had grown up with really great adoptive parents that always loved me and treated me like I was their own.
From there, I was very vulnerable and got into a relationship with a man very quickly, even moving in with him within a one month timeframe. I was trying to escape the current living situation with my mother and ended up in a domestic violence relationship. Mind you – I had never witnessed any type of violence between my adoptive parents, so for me to end up in that situation with a partner was extremely traumatizing. And I refused to call home for any type of help because I was so prideful.
JS: You eventually were able to escape that domestic violence relationship but endured a time period of being homeless, while working to become financially stable and get back on your feet again. I know that uncertainty of what lies ahead can leave many women paralyzed and stuck in abusive relationships. What advice would you give to any woman who’s struggling to leave because she’s fearful of the unknown or uncertainty that’s to come?
AYK: My advice would be to definitely make sure that you have a great support system that you can use. I had one friend that I could call and trust, and that really helped me to escape that situation.
Make sure that you have that support system in your corner so that when you start seeing those red flags – when the person is being controlling, when they’re isolating you from friends and family – and begin thinking about leaving the relationship, they can definitely step in and assist you. Or even if a situation one day just escalates too far and becomes too violent, having an escape plan in place and knowing who you can call can make all of the difference.
JS: How did public relations cross your interest? And what inspired you to launch The Jamison Agency?
AYK: I come from a musical family. I’m the cousin of the legendary “Godfather of Soul,” James Brown – my mother is a Brown and then she married my dad who is a Jamison. But I never used that name because I wanted to make my own way, and create my own legacy, in the business.
While I was in college, I had an independent hip hop blog and I was contacted by a marketing team for the rapper Boosie. I was brought on the team with them and I began doing marketing and PR – so that really piqued my interest and I realized that it was something I had already been doing, I just didn’t know the term for it.
Eventually, I started taking my own clients around 2018-2019. I didn’t have my own firm at that time but I was freelancing. I had a corporate job as well, so every day from eight to five I worked at my corporate job and then from the moment I got off, I would go home and work on my PR work. One day, I went into work and decided that that wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life – I didn’t want to work for anyone, I didn’t want to be in corporate anymore – and I went full fledged with my own agency.
I had enough money saved up to cover my rent for the next eight months and that was it, I haven’t worked a job since then. Today, when I look back I realize that really I manifested where I am today. I remember speaking with a friend and they asked me what I was going to name my firm, and I told them ‘The Jamison Agency.’ I went and completed the paperwork, got the LLC for it and it’s been pretty much up since then.
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JS: You are one of the most “sought after entertainment publicists,” making seven figures in just under two years. For aspiring PRs, what would you say are the three characteristics they need to embody to find success in the industry?
AYK: First off, you need to be passionate about your career and your clients. I know some publicists do it for the money and the clout, but you have to be passionate about your work. My company is very family oriented, and I treat my clients like they’re my family. I’m their therapist when they need me. And even if I’m not working with them at the moment, if I find an opportunity that I know is perfect for them, I still let them know – even if I’m not getting paid. I still make it a priority to keep them informed.
The second thing is to remain knowledgeable about your industry. The times are changing and so is the way that we have to do PR when it comes to our clients. Knowing how to adapt to the climate of the world is extremely important – we even saw that with the pandemic. Some publicists had to quit altogether because they couldn’t afford their bills, their clients weren’t getting gigs and they just didn’t know what to do during the pandemic. But it’s important to always know how to pivot and seek out other avenues that can be beneficial for both yourself and your clients.
Lastly, it’s important to always do good business. Your name is everything in this business and it only takes one or two people to bad mouth you before it circulates. You always want to make sure that you’re doing good, clean business with people because you never know who’s watching your work, who follows you on social media, who’s researching you – and word of mouth is everything in this industry. I get so many different opportunities just because of word or moth, so you always want to make sure you’re doing good business.
JS: I think to a lot of people a publicist’s job looks to be straightforward or simplistic, but it’s really not. What do you think is the most overlooked thing about what you all do as publicists that people tend to overlook?
AYK: I think people think that the only thing publicists do is secure interviews but it’s so much more than just that. You have media relations, crisis management – there’s so many scopes of PR. It’s not just booking a radio show or media outlet.
When you sign up to be someone’s publicist you sign up to officially be everything to that person – sometimes you have to wear the management hat, sometimes you have to be their therapist, sometimes you have to be their best friend. So you take on a lot when you’re someone’s publicist and you have to become very selfless. You have to be available 24/7 – it’s not just something where you can book a gig and that’s it. You have to talk to your clients, and be available to them, everyday, all year round.
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JS: You’ve accomplished so much for yourself and your business. As you move forward, what goals would you like to achieve in the next ten year span?
AYK: I’m working on opening up – what I believe will be – the first Black woman-owned adoption agency. So many people have approached me since I’ve come up with my story about being adopted and they want to find their families but they’re scared of the process or don’t know how to do it. I’ve heard so many horror stories and what’s happened to children, and I’ve been so fortunate to have grown up with a great adoptive family. So to be this fortunate, I want to make sure that other children have the opportunity to also experience the same things that I did.
I definitely want to release a book one day, maybe a series, about making it in the entertainment business. And also a book about things I haven’t really discussed out, like being sexually molested and things of that nature. That’s still something that I’m working on publicly saying.
I’m also creating a platform called “Creators Who Hustle,” where the mission is to inspire, uplift and advance the hustles of creatives. I want it to be a network hub that caters to all creatives – I’d also like to make it a tour series as well.
I also hope to get into movie production, or creative direction. And ultimately, of course, keep making The Jamison Agency even more successful.