Diddy’s top branding executive tells us how he’s working with brands to show up ‘for the culture’

Deon Graham, Rolling Loud
Deon Graham, Rolling Loud. . Aday for REVOLT
  • Meet Deon Graham, the CBO of Diddy’s Combs Enterprises.
  • Graham spoke to Insider about “keeping the brand at the center of the culture.”
  • He also shared his 360-approach to the Rolling Loud music festival and what he does in his role as CBO.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Deon Graham – a powerhouse in his own right – is one of the people behind Sean “Diddy” Combs’ success as a businessman. Graham – an Aquarius, soccer fan, introvert, and father of three – has been in his role as the chief brand officer of Combs Enterprises for a year, but he’s been by Diddy’s side for years now.

The executive’s journey began at Florida International University, where he was enrolled for a semester before leaving to focus on his brand City Never Sleeps – which transitioned from being a website that connected Black people to nightlife in major cities to “a digital creative agency that gives a f— about your brand,” according to its website.

Graham said the decision to dive into his work with this platform changed his life and saved him from “going down the wrong path.”

He quickly learned that even without the education and the accolades he still had “multi-billion dollar ideas.”

“And once I realized that, it gave me confidence. So yes, that was extremely surprising in the beginning, because I didn’t know how powerful my thoughts and strategies and way of looking at business were,” Graham continued.

Graham told Insider in a previous interview that his advertisements for a vodka brand partnering with City Never Sleeps got Diddy’s attention. Diddy’s advertising agency, Blue Flame, then asked Graham if he’d be willing to work with Diddy’s CÎROC Vodka in 2009.

The two have worked together since then. Graham, the now 36-year-old CBO of Combs Enterprises, started as a freelance digital consultant for Combs Enterprises in 2009. He’s also served as digital director and vice president of digital before becoming Combs Enterprises’ chief brand officer.

Combs Enterprises is responsible for a wide array of investments and businesses for the cultural icon Sean “Diddy” Combs. It includes brands such as Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment Group; Sean John, the clothing line; Combs Wine & Spirits, the company responsible for CÎROC Vodka and DeLeón Tequila; AQUAhydrate, the water brand; The Blue Flame Agency, an advertising and marketing business; and REVOLT Films and REVOLT MEDIA & TV.

‘For the culture’

In his role, Graham is at the heart of all of it: His work with Combs Enterprises means he’s been involved with several major cultural touchstones.

“We’re always showing up for the culture and have been for years,” said Graham.

For example, “VERZUZ,” a platform showcasing live battles between R&B and hip-hop artists via Instagram live and Apple Music, and a “cultural phenomenon,” according to the man himself, sparked Graham’s interest and led to CÎROC becoming the title sponsor for VERZUZ.

He also helped organize Diddy’s Dance-a-Thon via IG Live to raise money for PPE for Black and brown neighborhoods. And he helped launch REVOLT Black News, hosted and executive produced by Eboni K. Williams, in June 2020: “Because of the lockdown, we were able to bring that to life and give people the news on REVOLT from the culture to the culture without any cut in it.”

Graham says he is proud of being a part of so many cultural moments – especially the REVOLT Summit, which occurred virtually in October 2020.

“Being in a room with thousands of people that look like me, providing opportunity, seeing the network, seeing them get jobs, it always sticks out to me as the focal point. And as this world opens back up, it’s coming back to top of mind,” he said.

Rolling Loud

Rolling Loud, founded by Tariq Cherif and Matthew Zingler in 2015, is “the largest hip hop festival in the world,” according to their website. From Miami to Queens to Southern California, the cultural moment came back after more than a year without face-to-face festivals in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic (though there were two free virtual performances in the fall).

Rolling Loud will feature Combs Enterprises in all facets of the festival: general admission, VIP, drinks, and media coverage.

Prior to Graham becoming CBO, Combs Enterprises was involved with the festival on a smaller scale. But this year, Combs Enterprises is involved in every aspect of the festival. No matter who is attending, watching, or reading, they interacted with a Combs Enterprises brand.

“As a cultural marketer, my focus is always finding creative ways to make sure our brands show up and have a dominant presence in the biggest cultural moments,” Combs, CEO of Combs Enterprises told Insider.

“Our partnership with Rolling Loud is a perfect example of bringing this vision to life and Deon has done an incredible job continuing to elevate our portfolio of companies,” the mogul added.

How he gets it done

Graham said an integral part of his job is listening to others, no matter their position. It’s his goal to “create an open forum where people aren’t afraid to speak.”

“And I, as the leader in the situation, provide a little bit of direction, but it’s always in collaboration with anybody,” he added. “‘Cause I remember being at some of these meetings, or at the table, and I felt like people weren’t listening to what I was saying, like based on my position or role in the company at that time.”

Though he’s an introvert at heart, Graham said he does this by talking to people who may not be in his immediate circle, by stepping out of his comfort zone.

“You have to touch the people. You have to go to events. You have to network with people. You have to listen. You can’t just use your perspective,” Graham told Insider.

Graham also said that providing platforms and opportunities is important to the Black community: “It’s all we have. It’s the only way that we’re going to be successful – if we do this thing together, if we look out for each other, just strength in numbers, we need it.”