PR maven Rakia Reynolds does it all. The well-rounded owner of Skai Blue Media studied business at Temple's Fox School of Communications and worked in the television industry for 5 years before striking out on her own. Rakia balances her booming business, family, and appearances on HSN as Serena Williams' brand representative with impressive grace and energy. Learn more about her journey below...
You run a multimedia visual communications firm. When did you realize you had a knack for visual communications?
I’ve always been able to tell stories visually because it’s something that I used as a learning mechanism as a child to help me with book reports, and to articulate what I was trying to say. Using video recorders, and back in the day with the big VHS tapes, and then moving forward and using phones, I’ve always conveyed messages and told stories through that.
When I began Skai Blue Media, I had to do what I know how to do. There are other awesome publicists out there but I don’t really fit into that mold, and that’s not really who I am and that’s not what I’m trying to build in the company. Take what you do, take what you do best. Stay in your lane and do it that way.
I said, ‘I’m going to take what I know best and that’s the art of storytelling , through visual communications, through a multimedia approach.’ When I started Skai Blue Media that was the mission from day one. To take what we knew, and what we knew best to build a company.
Has the company changed in ways you didn’t expect it to?
Every year you want to be bigger, you want to be better, you want to be more effective and efficient than the previous year.
Although the company has evolved, we’ve always been back to the same thing. I would say it used to be that non-traditional PR and social media was the multivitamins to the public relations campaign, and now it’s completely the opposite. The traditional is the multivitamin to the non-traditional campaign. Now the main entrée is the social, the non-traditional, the experiential marketing, the look, the feel, and heightening the senses with everything you do.
You graduated Temple with a major in business and then spent five years working in film. Was there a time when you thought you would stay in film and television for the rest of your career?
I did. When you’re young and you see money I was like ‘oh my god, I’m young and I’m super successful, and I’m making all of this money’. I thought that it was going to be the end all be all because I was driven by a check. Then you have that ‘AH HA’ moment when you’re looking at success versus significance. I think I realized very early on that I wanted it to be a little of both. I do want the success, and I do want it to be very significant.
Has having a family impacted your decision making process? Has your family made your career choices more significant or meaningful?
Absolutely. I have a husband that I love and he is my absolute life partner. He’s my partner, and my children are my everything. Everything I do at the end of the day has to equate to ‘what would my children want? What would my children say, how is this going to benefit them?’ Nothing is decided on without ‘how is this going to impact my family?’
A lot of women feel that they have to choose between family and career either because of societal pressure, or lack of support from a partner. How is that you manage everything so gracefully?
I’ve been so amazingly blessed. It all starts right in your own home. I’ve had a partner who has supported me 100%. He’s been my biggest advocate and my cheerleader. I know other successful women, and they don’t have that. How do you do that?
For me, I need that person to say ‘you’re doing a great job’ and to give me that pat on the back. Or maybe a kick! Every once in a while my husband will say “you handled that totally inappropriately and you’re not putting your foot down, or you’re worried about this and you shouldn’t be worried about that. Being able to have that support is amazing.
I’ve had nannies along the way, I have an awesome team. The way that I approach the people who are on my team is as family members that I’m choosing. And again, it’s ‘in my house’ so how I would design my house and the people in it, is how I design my team. My team is what allows the company to grow and to go to the next level and to be multifaceted.
When did you realize that you wanted to get out of television and working for others in the public relations sector and start your own business? What made you realize you wanted to start out on your own?
It was a series of unfortunate events, honestly. It wasn’t like I had this great opportunity and somebody said ‘Hey, I’m going to invest in you and you’re going to start your business.’ I was tired of being yelled at, I was tired of being told ‘this is how you do it’ and as a creative person, you always go outside of the box.
There was not a point in my life where I was able to conform or stay inside. As a kid I never stayed within the lines, I scribbled all over the place. And working for other companies, I knew that I would always have to color within the lines. I’m creative, I need to be able to draw outside the lines. I need to be able to scribble every now again and doodle on the outside of the page. For me, entrepreneurship was that journey.
I would say that at the age of my quarter life crisis at 25, 26, 27 is when I realized ‘you can’t do this anymore.’
But I am thankful and happy that I did work for other people because you cannot be a great leader if you are not a great follower. And I had to be an awesome follower for all of those years getting people’s lunch, getting people’s coffee, being talked to like an idiot sometimes because thats - you know- the world we live in.
When you’re at the bottom of the totem pole, people will talk to you any way they want to. But for me, it enabled me to not be able to. My interns are treated like VP’s here. I don’t make them go and get everything. We talk like we’re colleagues and we’re on the same level. It might not be the right approach, but because I felt like as an intern I wasn’t valued, I want people to see the value.
When you first started Skai Blue, were there people in your life who doubted you? How did you overcome their negative energy?
I always say that entrepreneurship is like jumping off a cliff every day.
You don't know what to expect. In the beginning, I had a very traditional family. My mother was like “What do you think you’re doing? You’ve got a great job, you’ve got great benefits, you have health, you have dental, you’ve got vision, the world your oyster. If you become an entrepreneur who is going to pay your benefits and who is going to do this and who is going to do that.” It was a gamble. And I believe that the best success and the best outcomes come from the largest risks.
I have to take the major risk in order to fulfill my dreams and to what I wanted to do. But I had flack from my mother, I had flack from my father, my sisters. Internally, my entire family said ‘absolutely not’ because they love me and they were afraid for me.
Do you think that the way that you've approached risks in your life is different from the way another entrepreneur might approach risk?
There are so many different types of risks. There’s financial, there are life risks. I feel like I’ve taken them all ,and they don’t all feel great. When I took a risk, it was not a great feeling. I always say over and over again because I’m a Christian, ‘Lord I trust you. It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t feel good at all. But I trust you. And I trust the journey.’
My risks have been in all verticals: financial, life, social, and then there’s that risk you take of losing friends or certain groups of people because when you’re an entrepreneur it is the most lonely road. You are not going to be able to be on every ship that sales although I feel that I have been, and I’d like to be. You have to pick and choose and then you have to sacrifice people in your life. When you’re doing amazing things, that doesn’t look and feel good to everyone.
Not everyone is really truly happy for you.
No, absolutely not because ‘you know she makes it look easy, and I could do that.’ There’s always the ‘I could do that’ or ‘I can do that better’. Which is great! Do it better, have at it! I would love you to. But it doesn’t feel good all of the time.
Do you think that there are any advantages to being a female manager or a female business owner?
There are great advantages, because this is an honest fact: we think differently. We operate the right and left side of our brains a lot differently than a man. We use emotions, we use things like empathy. When you can be empathetic and put yourself in someone elses shoes, its one of the great advantages out there. Especially when you’re telling someone elses story, for me and my staff to be able to articulate someone else’s point of view. You can do anything, but if you have a point of view, that is the most important thing. And that’s probably the most valuable.
Have you experienced disadvantage because you are a woman?
Absolutely! You know, there are certain metrics and then are certain formulas. You walk into a board room, and when you start working with the bigger companies, it is a male dominated industry. You would think communications, advertising, multimedia, there are all of these cute girls with glasses walking around...no! It’s male dominated. Some of it...the CEOs, the higher-ups that I’m meeting with all happen to be men.
And there is a look when I walk into a room, or there is a look when I start talking, or there is a look when I start spitting out metrics as it relates to how people learn, consumer behavior, human development, and the psychological aspect of communications. People are like… ‘oh ok she’s really smart.’ I get the ‘wow, you’re really smart, wow you really know what you’re talking about’ which you would think was a great thing to say. But would you say that to a man?
It’s almost like they’re saying 'you’re smart….for a woman'.
And that’s exactly it. Wow, you’re really smart. Why the wow? Because I’m a woman? What if I were a man?
Who are some of the women you’ve looked up to in your life?
I have to credit my friend Almaz Crowe for this word, for this term. Anytime this term is used, I will put the trademark of Almaz Crowe on it.
I have a great circle of ‘friendtors’. They are friends and mentors. Friendtors are people that you can bounce ideas off of informally.
These are people who are younger than me, there are people who are older than me, and a lot of them are women. They’re Mary Dougherty from Nicole Miller, she’s been an awesome friendtor. She’s taught me the excellence of significance and success, work-life balance with family as it relates to working in the fashion industry. There are all of the people that I work with in the Office of the City Representative, Melanie Johnson. Elka Battle. I could go on and on with the great list of friendtors that I have out here. There’s Berlinda Garnett. Berlinda is at Fox and she is, I believe, one of the women who will tell me like it is. Mike Jerrick from Fox has been an awesome mentor. Niki Hawkins from ABC.
There’s a great Website called Live in the Grey. Their philosophy is that you love what you do, you live what you love. You make your colleagues your friends, and your friends your colleagues. It’s very similar for me. There are no blurred lines. If we work together and I’m not just pitching you, we end up being friends. ‘Hey, let’s grab a slice of pizza’ or ‘hey, I’m going to come to your party.’ It’s a real thing. I can do a million things, but I do value the people that I’m around and that I work with.
I’m a walking conflict of interest (laughs)
It’s not really a conflict of interest...you’re living and being honest about what other people try to deny. Why is it a conflict of interest?
Yes! It’s ok that we’re friends. We can also say ‘hey, here’s a business thing that I’m going to pitch you.’ Now, I don’t do that with everyone. But there are people that I do that with.
On the topic of mentorship, you take a lot of young women and also a lot of young men under your wing here at Skai Blue. You’re also very involved with Big Brother, Big Sister. Why is mentorship so important to you?
I always learned that you are blessing to be a blessing to other people.
You don’t just get blessed to go out and kick up your heels and say ‘I’m the sun and stars’. You’re blessed to be put into a position to help other people and to bless other people. So when someone comes to me, I need to make sure that I am paying that forward and helping other people. Be it the people around me, be it the people externally that we help. No one can through life, no one, without proper mentorship. I dont care if you graduated with a dual degree from harvard or from yale. If you don’t have the right people around you telling you like it is, the real deal, you won’t get very far. I don’t care how smart you are. I would say that mentorship is probably one of the most important things in a successful business. In any business. But mentorship is at the epicenter of it all.
Is there a motto or mantra that you adhere to or believe in?
Oh my gosh! There are so many! I’m cheesy. Teamwork makes the dreamwork is something that I habitually say. Work hard, be nice to people is probably one of my favorites. The whole notion of you’re a blessing to be a blessing to others. I love mantras! I’m probably one of those walking memes, but I do live by a lot of the ones that are centered around teamwork.
I’m a true athlete at heart. I was a cockson at Temple University, I played basketball in high school. I played tennis for a little bit. I think being an athlete was very important for my growth. It forced me to be able to do things and never take all the credit.
You can’t really take all of the credit. Everything you do is a part of a team from your relationships, even your significant other. You should be doing things together. If you go and have a family, or you go and have a business, ‘team’ is probably the keyword.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be the next Rakia Reynolds?
That sounds so funny, the next Rakia Reynolds! I would say, surround yourself with really good people. Surround yourself with people that will tell you not only what you want to hear, but also tell you the truth that will help you with your professional growth, your development of who you want to be, because thats going to change every 3 years. It’s not every 5 years, it’s not every 10 years. It’s every 3 years you’re going to want to change your vision, what you want to do, your goals, your aspirations. And sometimes those things when you start dev quick;y. they change year to year. I keep vision boards, notebooks, write things down that I would like to see for myself.
It’s really about the people you have surrounding you, and your friendtor advisory board. My friendtor advisory board helps me get through everything, help me move everything to the next level.