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A Peek Inside Her Agenda: Rakia Reynolds

Founder and Executive Officer of Skai Blue Media

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Jul. 1 2024, Published 7:00 a.m. ET

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A Peek Inside Her Agenda Rakia Reynolds
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Rakia Reynolds is the Founder and Executive Officer of Skai Blue Media, a nontraditional communications agency that proudly hosts an eclectic group of storytellers, brand experts, and strategists. 

Rakia continues to be an influential thought leader in the creative business industry as she works with her team to launch, brand, re-brand, and revitalize lifestyle, technology, non-profit, and entrepreneurial clients. This list includes Airbnb, Nasdaq, Comcast/Xfinity, Dell, Serena Williams, Morgan Stanley, Jill Scott, and more. Rakia is recognized for her innovative approach and commitment to authenticity and has spoken at TEDx, SXSW, Inbound, and others. More than a keynote speaker, Rakia is often called upon to moderate panel discussions due to her in-depth knowledge of an extensive range of topics affecting the business community.

Her Agenda spoke with Rakia to discuss the road she took to create and grow Skai Blue Media, how her diverse professional background allows her to show up as an employer and leader at her company, and the advice she has for folks to dream big.

Her Agenda: So, the last time we spoke, you were just honored at the 2024 Matrix Awards. How has it felt to be honored in this way at such an esteemed level?

Rakia Reynolds: You know what? I don’t think it’s sunken in. So many people have contacted me and talked about how prestigious this award is. Other writers and media people that I know have been like, ‘Oh my gosh, I used to try to get into that room and get a seat and just be at the table, and the fact that you’ve won an award…’ 

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I don’t know; it’s hard to answer. Maybe it just hasn’t even sunken in, or it’s because I’ve been doing the work [for so long] that I really don’t pay attention to the awards or how it all pans out.

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Her Agenda: Before starting Skai Blue Media, you were [working] in the television industry as a producer, you were laid off, and you entered a space where you had to take the reins of your own career. What was starting over like for you?

Rakia Reynolds: I’ve always been able to pivot. Growing up, I never really fit into the mold of what everyone said. I was so used to saying, ‘Okay, that doesn’t work. Now, let me move on to that. That doesn’t work, I’ll move on to that.’ 

Earlier in my career, after grad school, I was a studying counseling psychologist. I was working with people who faced challenges around coping, specifically [coping with] their first year of college. So, how do [they] transition from being home all of the time and now [they’re] going to be in this foreign place? I had to work with students who were experiencing their first time with sexual assault, oppositional defiance disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, all of those things, you name it. I did that for about five years at Temple University in higher education. [After], I was actually recruited by a producer working on a show for MTV Networks, and started working on scripted dramas around My So Called Life and Degrassi High. That pivot from psychology to TV, to me, [was] more seamless because I think I’ve always innately been a producer, just someone that gets it done. I’m always researching, completely immersing myself in whatever industry I’m working in so that I can learn it, and then just go ahead and implement and execute. The world of production for me was essentially like working in higher education [where I produced] programs and activities for young people who were trying to cope or trying to transition out of their normal situations and habitats. All of those things were transferable skills. You can always center yourself around learning, receiving information, and listening to people so that you are better equipped to speak and be an expert. We have a lot of folks out here, now, that learn one thing off of YouTube or Tiktok and then [think] they’re an expert. I’ve interviewed people for social media positions, and I’m like, where’s your experience? And they’ll say, ‘Oh, well, I planned my own event, and it was really successful, and I did this social media and it went viral, and now I’m a social media expert.’ 

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I believe in this slow cooker approach of putting all of the things in the crock pot and letting it sit and bake for a while. Studying psychology, human behavior, consumer behavior and being a studying, counseling psychologist for five years allowed me the patience, tenacity, and the wherewithall to get into the cutthroat world of being a producer. In those days, it was earlier before a ton of social media, where people could treat anyone badly. I was in environments where the crews were 65 people, and I was the only Black person [working as] a producer. I’ve had people reach out to me now, some of the craft service people, or the food people, or the janitor staff who were Black, or interns. [They’ll say], ‘I’m now an award-winning producer on HBO, or Showtime, or Starz. And I remember seeing you as the only Black producer, and I knew if that little Black girl named Rakia could do it, I could do it too.’ 

I’ve always had to make do. I’ve always had to be the person who’s going against the grain and swimming upstream. [I bounced] from counseling [and] studying psychology to then the world of production. [I got] into the world of magazines, which is also cutthroat, where I was producing fashion editorials for Lucky Magazine, guest editing for Marie Claire, writing think pieces for Forbes, all while being a married woman who’s a mother. I think I was on my third child when I started my company. I’ve always been in this place where I’ve had so many things on my plate.

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Her Agenda: When you [first started] Skai Blue Media and had the first few ideas set out for it, what was your initial goal?

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Rakia Reynolds: Originally, I started it as a production company to produce content for people who needed to be able to tell their stories, whether it was a college or university, who was faced with challenges of negative press, or they were trying to get more students to attend their universities. [Also], if a business improvement district was trying to get more businesses into the district, or [trying to get] people to a certain city, [that meant] doing destination marketing [to get] people to shop, live, and play in a certain city. So it started as a production company, and then I started to branch off into traditional public relations, event marketing, graphic designing websites, and then it became a full-service communications agency.

Her Agenda: That’s cool. As you were building the different services, was it as needed? What led to the expansion of it going from just a production company to now being a full service media and communications [agency]?

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Rakia Reynolds: It was as needed; it was iterative. So I started it off as the production company, and then it was like, ‘Oh, we need an event.’ Then, I started getting into the world of crisis comms, which [stretched] me into more traditional PR. I was working with the city and a business improvement district that wanted to create content because they had some negative press around flash mobs and people breaking into stores. So, I created content, but then I started working with their city officials, their business improvement district officials, and board members to talk about not [facing] the negative pieces. Let’s be proactive and talk about the positive things and why people should be here. I was looking at things differently. When people were coming to me with one thing, I was like, ‘Well, how about this? Or how about that?’ It wasn’t so much what was needed. It was what I thought was needed.

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Her Agenda: Starting out your career [in the psychology] space, going into production, going into the magazine industry, and working as an employee in all those spaces, what have you taken from those experiences that you apply to how you show up as an employer for Skai Blue Media?

Rakia Reynolds: I think it goes back to learning and listening. I’ve been leading teams and managing people for [a little over] 21 years now. I had to get trained in organizational development and get trained in organizational culture [and] conflict resolution. I’ve gotten so many conflict resolution certificates from higher education because I had to do so much of it. 

The first part of my career was really studying human behavior, why people make decisions, [and] why people say the things they say. It’s given me a level of empathy and a sense of attunement to really read the room, to say, ‘Okay, maybe that wasn’t a great thing to say.’ I’ve also had some terrible bosses in the world of entertainment and media. When I was working as a television producer, they didn’t care about you. They just wanted the work done. They didn’t care how you were feeling. Your eyeballs could be bleeding, and they’d be like, ‘Well, are we going to get this round of edits? Is it going to be cut?’ I hated being treated like a disposable commodity, and [I] vowed that when I started my own company, I would never treat people like that.

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Her Agenda: [You represent] brands like Essence and Morgan Stanley, and people like Serena Williams, Jill Scott, and Marsai Martin. Did you imagine your clientele looking this way when you started out?

Rakia Reynolds: No, not at all. When I first started, I was working at an office in the city of Philadelphia. I never intended for it to be as big as it was. I thought I’d be a content person or working on films and doing things here and there. There [were] these twists and turns that I can see how my business shifted. The first one was because I had done all of this work in the city of Philadelphia [and] the first CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, asked someone, ‘Who’s doing all of this work in the city of Philadelphia by putting Philadelphia on the map?’ Someone [else said], ‘Oh, this woman Rakia Reynolds. She’s, like, part lobbyist, part communications person, [and] part content person. They couldn’t figure [it] out, and still can’t figure out what I do. But, [Travis] was like, ‘I just want to bring her in because I’m launching this ride-sharing tool,’ that we now know as Uber. ‘I’m launching this ride-sharing tool and would love for her to consult.’ So, [I] started working with Uber early on, and when that did really well in Philadelphia, I got to work on what they were doing in San Francisco and New York. Then, I got a call from HSN, and they were like, ‘Hey, we see all this work you’re doing.’ And then I got a call and they were like, ‘We want you to work with Serena Williams.’ After that, these top models were starting to see some of the work that I had done, and it was Ashley Graham.

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One thing after another, people were just finding me. I never pitched the business, I never marketed the business, [and] I never talked about the business. In fact, I hid myself as the CEO of the company for so long and just said that I was the Director of Media. I wanted to do my own social experiment to see what it would be like if people thought I just worked for this company. So I did that, and it was just a snowball effect for many years, where someone was finding out about what we did and how we worked, and that’s really how the clientele grew. We’ve gotten calls from some of the top celebrities in the world inquiring about our services. Some of them have worked out, some of them haven’t, but it really has been this whirlwind of it happen[ing] on its own.

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Her Agenda: What is something that you ask in that initial client meeting when you’re first meeting with people to get a sense of what kind of services they want from you and what kind of story they want to tell?

Rakia Reynolds: I ask people a lot of questions like, what do you think the story is? How do you think the story should be told? Are there any publications that you’ve seen as of late where stories are told and you wish, or you believe that it should be your story told instead? Are there any public figures out there right now [doing] something that [you think you] should be doing? Are there any pieces of press that are out there right now or any recent media stories that you’ve read where you felt like you could fit into the story? I ask a lot of questions. I ask them what their favorite headline would be if someone were to tell a story about them. I ask them a lot about themselves, their personal brand and how people perceive them. Typically, if someone comes to you, they already believe that they should be a person in the media. They already believe that they’re a person of note. So, if you believe you’re a person of note, what do you think that story is?

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Her Agenda: [Authenticity is] definitely a thread and a theme that runs through Skai Blue Media. Outside of your commitment to authenticity, what else do you think sets Skai Blue Media apart from other media and communication firms out there?

Rakia Reynolds: This is going to sound cheesy, but I really do think it’s the part around honesty because we value trust, honesty, and sincerity. I really do think that’s it. Folks want people, whether they say it or not, they want people who are going to tell them the truth. They want people who are going to push against the grain and say, ‘Hey, you should think about it this way.’ We are [also] a very imaginative group, and because I come from this place where I had to start from the ground up, [and] be able to work without resources very early on, [it] caused me to be creative. [I] had to innovate and figure out different ways to solve problems and come up with different solutions. When you’re faced with adversity very early on, it causes your brain to think differently and for you to solve problems differently. Having to do that constantly gives us a different leg up and a different approach to our work.

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Her Agenda: I read in a previous article that one of your favorite books [is] ‘A Wrinkle in Time,’ and a lesson that you learned from the book was to dream big. How do you apply this lesson to your everyday life now?

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Rakia Reynolds: It really is dreaming big, [and] never settl[ing] for anything. We live in this world where we see so much, and we compare ourselves, and all of it [is] an illusion. People tell you what they want you to hear. You’re not really doing what you said you’re doing, and you’re not really who you say you are. I think everyone should come from this position of power, in this position of I can do anything [and] I can do all things. I should be able to create for myself. I should be able to think for myself. I should be able to create the unexpected and do the unimaginable.

Her Agenda: That’s incredible. Along with being a media boss you’re a wife, you’re a mother, and I think your online presence really showcases that well. People sometimes think that women can’t have both a fruitful career life and a fruitful love and a fruitful family life. What would be your advice to help folks break from this kind of limited thinking?

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Rakia Reynolds: You know, I think that’s funny. I don’t think I have it all, but when you put it like that, I do. I am married, and I’ve been married for a really long time. I have three children who are happy and healthy, and here, as we like to say. Being able to have that kind of life affords me to be grateful and thankful for what is in front of me. I know that might sound cliche or trite, but I really do believe that you sometimes have to look at what’s in front of you and say, what are the things that I have, not what are the things that I don’t have. That’s how I look at them every day. Living in your power and being grateful for the things that are right in front of you, and not focusing on what you don’t have, that’s my constant and what keeps me going. 

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Her Agenda: [Is there] anything else that you want to add or go into in regards to you as a founder, as a woman, and as you’re continuing to strive in your career?

Rakia Reynolds: One of the things that I am really keen on right now while the world is concentrating on artificial intelligence, I want to be in a space of ethical intelligence and human intelligence. I’ve done a lot of research around AI. I’ve actually been writing about AI since 2016-2017. My first article for Forbes was [about] creativity and AI and how people can use it. So where I am right now is really in this space of human intelligence and building around ethical intelligence. 

Her Agenda: What is your motto?Rakia Reynolds: At the company, from a business standpoint, we have values, and the one listed first is trust, authenticity, and transparency. Trust and integrity are close cousins. When I’ve had to do some deep, reflective thinking about how I take on clients or what kinds of people I hire, they have to operate from the space of trust, integrity, and authenticity. One of the things that we repeatedly say, or people say about folks at Skai Blue Media, is that we’re honest. One of our clients actually said [we] should be called truth serum because [we] take stories and pull out the real truth instead of massaging or trying to PR a story. It goes into our brand colors, too. I wear blue all the time. And Skai Blue, the blue represents trust, honesty, and authenticity. I studied consumer behavior and color psychology, and blue on the color wheel is the color of trust, honesty, and sincerity. So, for me, the motto is always along the lines of being honest whenever you can. I know we live in this world where you sometimes have to PR things and show up differently, but never sacrifice or compromise your own integrity to be anything other than you.

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[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length, grammar, and clarity.]

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Chinenye Onyeike HS
By: Chinenye Onyeike

Chinenye Onyeike is an NAACP and Webby Award winning producer. She currently works as an associate producer for The Daily Show podcasts and a Her Agenda contributor.

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