Workin' for the Benjamins
2012 alumna makes it in New York and L.A. working for P. Diddy
By Marie Dunn-Harris
Fresh out of college, Tomeka Kolleh '12 moved to New York in hopes of finding a public relations job in the big city.
Little did she know that two years later, she would be working for Combs Enterprises, led by chairman, hip-hop recording artist, actor and entrepreneur, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.
“If you would have asked me when I was in college, or even a year or two years ago, if this is where I would be today, I would have said no way,” Kolleh said.
Getting to where Kolleh is today took hard work and persistence. The decision to move to New York and live with her sister came after graduation.
“I thought that after I graduated there would be an opportunity of a lifetime waiting for me, but I was faced with a much different reality,” she said.
Kolleh gave herself one month to find a job in New York. If nothing worked out, she planned on moving back to her parents’ home in Southfield, Mich. She ended up finding a job working part-time as a college admissions counselor. The other part of the week she worked at a digital startup public relations firm as an unpaid intern.
“I knew I had to have income coming in to make it in the concrete jungle, so I treated my part-time job as an investment in my dreams,” Kolleh said. “Having a part-time job limited the time I spent at my internship, which fed my drive to give my absolute all when I was able to be there.”
Another internship at Glu Agency allowed Kolleh to work on a project that included rapper Little Wayne and his Mountain Dew deal and clothing line.
“I worked on his Dew Easy campaign and learned some valuable industry insights,” she said.
Soon after that, Kolleh moved on to work in the promotions department for Horizon Media, where she did radio promotions for companies such as Geico, Capitol One and Little Caesars Pizza.
While at Horizon Media, Kolleh learned about a company called Remy Martin Cognac and was determined to work there. She applied, had an interview, but didn’t get the position. A few weeks later, another position opened up in the public relations department and she landed that job in September of 2013. That is when her career really took off, Kolleh said.
“I was able to hone in all the skills that I had from prior internships and utilize them to expand myself within this new role,” she said.
About a year later, Kolleh attended a networking event where the movers and shakers of New York City gathered to honor people in the industry who were identified as powerhouses. One of them was Erica Pittman, who worked for Ciroc Ultra Premium Vodka. Kolleh knew of Pittman’s work and took it upon herself to meet her.
“I introduced myself, congratulated her, and explained that I followed her career and I looked up to her as a young woman in the industry,” she said.
Pittman encouraged Kolleh to reach out to her in the future because Ciroc was always hiring.
“I sent her a note after we met to congratulate her again and just to keep in touch,” Kolleh said.
A few weeks later, Kolleh happened to come across a job opening at Blue Flame Agency while on Instagram and immediately applied.
“They emailed me back that same day and I had an interview the very next day with the hiring manager, HR manager and Pittman,” she said.
Kolleh did not get that position but three months later she was contacted again for another job opportunity to work for Pittman at Combs Wine and Spirits, and she got it.
In that position, Kolleh assisted Pittman in bringing in new business and national accounts for Ciroc.
“I was able to learn and understand how a business works and how to build revenue, beyond the events and nightlife,” she said.
Less than six months later, Kolleh’s boss was offered a promotion and wouldn’t take it unless Kolleh went with her. But there was a catch. She would have to move to Los Angeles.
“I had never been to L.A.,” Kolleh said, “but I had nothing holding me down to New York so I said, ‘Why not?’”
Kolleh’s title is associate of the Chairman’s Office of Combs Enterprises. Her boss, Pittman, works directly with Combs and it’s Kolleh’s job to help Pittman manage projects through the pipeline.
“No two days are the same. I never know how long I’m working or what I’m doing,” Kolleh said. “It’s one of the few jobs that I’ve had that really takes on a shape of its own.”
Kolleh never thought that this was going to be her career path. There are some things that she would have changed along the way, such as, working for a smaller agency before trying to make it in a big city. She advises current students to utilize their summers.
“Every summer from sophomore to senior year, they should not only have an internship but also an internship in a big city if possible,” she said.
She also advises students to have a mentor and to pinpoint what type of public relations or marketing they want to do and for what industry.
“I worked at so many different companies that I felt like a ping pong ball,” she said. “Employers want to see if you have a common interest in one area and if you’re going to be loyal to them.”
Kolleh says having a plan is key.
“Don’t wait until after college to start your career,” she said. “You might not have to stick to that plan, but make sure that you have one.”