An Interview with Rakia Reynolds

Rakia Reynolds Interview

Rakia Reynolds is the founder of Skai Blue Media, a multimedia public relations agency with an all-star roster of lifestyle, technology and fashion clients.

Rakia was named one of the 25 tastemakers on Dell’s “Inspire 100” list, a list of the most socially influential people in the country. As a leader in the public relations industry, Skai Blue Media provides business development, marketing, and message strategy to nonprofits, tech start-ups, and fashion designers, among other businesses.

Rakia’s path to entrepreneurship was led by many creative ventures including a role producing shows for MTV, TLC and Discovery Health networks, but ultimately she wanted to create a company that represented the future of public relations in the digital age.

A self-described “octopus woman, wearing many hats,” Rakia currently serves as the co- president of the Philadelphia chapter of Women in Film & Television, serves as a board advisor for Fashion Group International, and the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications.

Rakia has also been recognized as an implementer of great strategy by the Young Entrepreneur Council, and was presented the Power to the Community award by PECO for being a community trailblazer.

Rakia has spoken at The 7th Annual Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network Summit, is a featured Forbes writer, she’s Launch Communications Director for Becoming Self Made, and she appears on HSN as Serena Williams’ brand representative. You can learn more about Rakia on Twitter and on the Skai Blue Media website.

In this interview, Rakia shares her passion for helping micro-businesses, women in business, and entrepreneurs promote their brand at low cost. She tells us her business approach is to influence and help them grow as well. Rakia’s authentic and passionate attitude are her best traits and the secret of Skai Blue Media’s success.

Her advice for entrepreneurs starting a business in Pennsylvania:

Connect with other small businesses and entrepreneurs in your area. It’s something I did and a lot of my first clients were local brands. But I’d warn you to be careful about limiting yourself. Your business may be based in Pennsylvania, but your market doesn’t necessarily have to be.

How did you get the idea for Skai Blue Media? Is there something you wanted to do different or better than your competitors?

I started out in TV production and when I got laid off, I saw it as an opportunity to do something I really loved. I’m a natural storyteller and my mind has always worked in visuals. So, I set my eyes on the world of public relations.

I’m a firm believer in staying in your lane and doing the things you do best. I knew that traditional PR wasn’t going to work for me. I spent a year at a PR firm and I was miserable. I didn’t fit the mold, so I chose to break it instead. I wanted to capitalize on the fact that I was great at multimedia and visual communications and using things like experiential marketing and social media.

In traditional PR, no one was using those techniques as the main part of their approach but I knew I could use those mediums to tell compelling stories for brands. So, I built Skai Blue Media around that. Now, I look around and see that other PR firms are catching on to the idea of the non-traditional.

What are your visions for your business? Where do you see it in the next 5 years?

When I was younger, I think like most young people, I was really driven by success. If you’d ask me this question a few years ago, I might have mentioned big clients or dollar values. And while I do want those things, I’m really focused on the importance of impact and significance along with success.

I built Skai Blue Media despite some pretty tough circumstances and I’d like to help others do the same. I hope to take us global and cover areas like South America, South Africa and India where we would offer services at little to no cost to women and micro businesses that need revenue, branding and bragging the most.

What attitude/habits helped make you successful while starting Skai Blue Media?

I made it a habit to practice my pitch. I knew what to say and how to say it. Being comfortable talking to people about what I did at Skai Blue is how I got my clients. It wasn’t social media or email blasts, but being face-to-face with people at events and conferences and knowing my brand inside out so I could market myself. It’s so important to know your brand story and be able to tell it effectively and compellingly. I don’t think that will ever stop being a valuable habit.

Actually, a lot of the habits and attitudes I had in those early days are still so important now. As an example, I have always maintained my authenticity. I never pretended to be anything but myself or that Skai Blue was something it wasn’t. Good businesses are built on a foundation of authenticity. That’s what people relate to. They see through the pretenses really quickly and once a person thinks you’re phony, they’re not going to work with you.

I think I was able to remain authentic because I never let myself doubt that my gifts would make room for me. I never had to compromise on my values or goals for clients because I trusted that what I was doing with Skai Blue was going to attract the clients I wanted.

Once I got those clients, I stayed consistent. As an entrepreneur, I learned really quickly that there’s no room for inconsistency—not in quality, not in customer relationships, and not in your delivery. Customers show up for what you offer. They build their expectations around that, and if they’re not getting it, there isn’t anything stopping them from going elsewhere. You’ve got to bring your A-game every single day.

Have you ever gotten a disappointed client or customer? how did you handle the situation?

It happens. Sometimes your expectations are misaligned or things weren’t communicated clearly. In those situations, it’s important to be apologetic and as accommodating as you reasonably can.

What’s really key is making sure you do what you need to before you even start working with a client to avoid disappointing them. You have to be careful to manage their expectations properly. As much as you want to give your client everything they ask for, you have to play your role as the expert and keep their goals realistic. And a golden rule: never promise results you cannot guarantee. This is the easiest way to disappoint a client and ruin your credibility.

What was your biggest business mistake and how did you come out stronger at the end of the day?

I wasn’t always careful to have the right people around me. Financial and legal issues have never been my strong suit and, looking back now, I should have had a business partner who I could trust to handle those things. But I also made bad decisions about who I hired, and held on to staff I should have fired.

I had people on my team who stole from me and who leaked private business matters to the press. I also had people who weren’t good enough at their jobs to contribute meaningfully. Some of the staff I hired just weren’t really passionate about Skai Blue Media and our vision.

The lessons I learned from that mistake were hard but valuable. Now, I only hire people who are genuinely interested in my success and understand what we do at Skai Blue. They have to be the best at what they do so they can pull their weight and handle their strengths while I handle mine.

Anything less than that won’t cut it. I tell my staff all the time that Skai Blue is going to the penthouse and some people are going to get off at lower floors. I’ve learned to be okay with that because I understand now that your team will make or break you.

What do you consider the biggest milestone? What’s the biggest Step you took to get there?

I’d have to say it was getting to the point where my team and I were handling 20 clients at once. I still remember sitting in a tiny office with a cardboard desk with just one client. It’s a huge milestone to have a team of 11 amazing individuals and so many brands that put their businesses in our hands.

I attribute that growth to my willingness to be a creative problem-solver. With PR, you’re constantly presented with problems by your clients and you have to be able to engage in solution-based thinking. I’ve always found a way to navigate the industries we work with and pivot to find creative solutions. And I made sure to build a team of people who knew how to do that too. I think being consistent with that is what keeps clients knocking on our door.

Who has been your greatest influencer? How did they shape Skai Blue Media?

I wouldn’t say there was any single person, but a collection of friends and mentors—or as my friend Almaz Crowe calls them, friendtors—who have been really influential. Women like Mary Dougherty from Nicole Miller, Berlinda Garnett from Fox and Niki Hawkins from ABC. A lot of the people I encountered through different parts of my career gave me gems of wisdom and advice that allowed me to have the success I do now.

How do you stay focused on a day-to-day basis? Do you have a key motivator that keeps you going and fighting the good fight?

I am always clear about my vision. I write down my goals. I love vision boards. Knowing what I want for myself and Skai Blue Media keeps me going every day. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. I can’t tell you there aren’t days I’ve wanted to quit.

But from the very start, the vision has been what’s kept me going through the tough moments. Ultimately, no matter how many people I hire or who I surround myself with, the job of making Skai Blue Media everything I want it to be is my responsibility. When I’m tired and ready to quit, I focus on that.

What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? Is there something you’re most proud of?

I’ve always colored outside the lines. I’m a creative person and I don’t do well with limits and restrictions. Being an entrepreneur is great because I get to decide where I go, how I work and what happens next. It means being able to design the way my destiny looks. I’m not bound by anyone else’s rules or conventions.

My business, my rules. I’m really proud of the impact that I’ve been able to have because of that. Being able to help amazing brands grow and work as an influencer in Philly has been a point of pride for me. I love that I’ve been able to be involved with organizations like Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, Project Explore and Tech Girls to help inspire others to follow their passions into business. I don’t think I would have been able to have this kind of influence if I wasn’t an entrepreneur.

What advice would you give to our readers who want to start a business in Pennsylvania? Where should they start?

Pennsylvania, especially Philadelphia, has a really entrepreneurial spirit. You’ll want to capitalize on that. Connect with other small businesses and entrepreneurs in your area. It’s something I did and a lot of my first clients were local brands. But I’d warn you to be careful about limiting yourself. Your business may be based in Pennsylvania, but your market doesn’t necessarily have to be.

In my early days with Skai Blue, we were growing much more nationally than on a local level, and there were people who tried to make me feel bad about that. But with the Internet, the world is your marketplace. Your customer base is wherever people need your services.