Rakia Reynolds took the PR world by storm. From Philadelphia. With almost no money. While pregnant with her second child...
Rakia Reynolds' Skai Blue Media balances corporate clients like Uber and Forbes with celebrity clients like Serena Williams and Ashley Graham. Her success, as far as we can tell, is attributable to a certain natural charm; the sort of charisma you gain one way and one way only: by overcoming adversity.
Yes, yes we know. The "overcoming adversity" story is the most cliche thing in the world. We are constantly beaten over the head with it. We all have our own struggles, after all.
But, as difficult as it may sound, the simple fact that she overcame adversity is not what interested us in Rakia. What's unique about her is not her defiance of the odds, but her willingness to gamble. She took successful television career and successful marriage and laid them both on the line, risking everything for what could have very well been a pipe dream.
It is this bravery of hers, not her toughness, that makes her a Breaker.
How do you describe your personal brand?
I’m a well-dressed nerd.
Good answer. How do you describe your approach to PR?
Business, branding, and bragging. You might have a great base, right? What does your branding look like? What does your business collateral look like? And then how do you take that to the next step and brag about it? It’s a healthy thing to do, and that’s where the PR comes into play.
One of my favorite entrepreneurial questions to ask is: what was your first year of business like?
I started the business when I was pregnant with my second child, and you do get discriminated against when you’re pregnant. And I was doing what no one else was doing at this time with this system of communications. No one had a holistic approach like I did, so that meant I didn’t have anyone to mentor me or show me what to do. I had to rely on myself. Financially, in the very beginning, I started it brick by brick. I didn’t have the $50,000 some people have just lying around. We were able to use part of my husband’s Christmas bonus money, “I have a few grand; what do you think we should do with it?” he said. I suggested an office space to help with visualizing what I had in my head which was a small, coffee shop setting. I went and bought furniture, enlisted the help of an intern very early on. It was hard! Three years later I was still like, “Aaaah!” trying stay above water. It wasn’t until after year four I felt I could start to breathe a little. I really just started to make it above water a short while ago.
We can relate. From the outside, people say things like, “he’s killing it!” when they have no idea the pains entrepreneurs go through just figuring out the payroll. It’s like the biggest misconception.
Exactly! It’s like, I’m sweating every two weeks because of payroll and the rest of my overhead.
Where did you grow up and what was your upbringing like?
I was born in Newark, New Jersey, and lived there until Kindergarten. My dad is a longshoreman and my mom has worked as a secretary for the IRS. So I grew up with my parents having blue collar jobs with a mentality of hard work. While I was growing up, my mother frequently dealt with depression and had her own issues. We’d ask her, “Why are you so mean?” and other family would compensate for that. These other people would boost me up, saying how much they believed in me. “You’re going to be a star” is what my dad would tell me. He would say, “I’m a longshoreman, working with my arms all day; you’re working with your brain. I never want you to be a labor worker. Be a hard worker, but use your brain.” Honestly, if my dad had told me I was going to be a mermaid, I would be swimming the oceans right now.
I’m not too familiar with Newark, but from what I’ve read, Newark has a very rich African American history. Was that part of your fabric as a kid too?
I mean, my parents lived in Newark their whole lives, and it was only African Americans. When I was in Kindergarten they made a conscious decision to make sure I didn’t grow up in this warped reality. “The world isn’t only African American. It’s full of different kinds of people for you to meet.” They then put me in a school in Hillside, New Jersey, which was a suburb at the time, so I got to go to school with children who were Lebanese, Muslim, Indian, Haitian, White, etcetera. It was a well of richness.
Do you think things have progressed and changed between when you were a kid and seeing your kids growing up now?
I think we’ve moved the needle a little bit; I’m an optimistic person. At the same time, just last week I had a person tell me they wanted to touch my hair. Like, are you asking other people this? I don’t think people are walking around with mal-intent, I just think its misinformation. My daughter experienced the same thing with a fellow class student. Are these people really that uneducated or are they just mis-educated? Maybe unknowingly callous?
Seeing you as a person with kids, “juggling” all these things, makes me want to ask how it is to handle so much. But maybe that’s the wrong question. How do you feel about being asked about your role as a mother? Is that even an appropriate question?
Yeah, it’s like, I don’t see people asking my husband how he’s able to juggle everything. I appreciate the question because it gives me a chance to inspire others, however, I know my feminist peers would think that’s a horrible question. Part of me is a feminist, sure, but I’m also a mom and a realist. But, if you remember the ethics of my childhood, I was always told I could do it. What person starts a business in a bad economy and pregnant with their second child?
Let’s talk about Skai Blue. How’s your client list?
Well, in terms of clients, we have Ashley Graham who is killing it. We’re still working with Serena Williams on her line for HSN—just got back from fashion week prep in NYC. One of our clients Marley Dias, just a little girl wrote a book, spoke at the White House. We got behind her and built a comprehensive communications plan with her and her mother. For us, the trajectory was that we were going to be working with more of these individual brands—the people behind the brands—and our core is making that into a lifestyle, even if it’s a tech brand. Our thing is that when looking at it from a lifestyle approach, it becomes a more common conversation. We’re even working with some clients in the social justice and foreign policy arenas, and it’s all still connected with lifestyle.
Who was your first break out client?
Maybe it was three years after Skai Blue’s conception we started working with Uber in the Philadelphia area, giving them strategies like they had in San Francisco and NYC markets. They’d probably be our first “break out” client—Uber—making it more of a lifestyle brand.
I’m sure working with Serena is one of those things that turns heads. Is it good having your multiverse of corporate as well as celebrity type clients, like your Ashley Graham’s and your Serena Williams’?
Well, we’ve received emails from people saying they’d like to work with us but can’t due to price, or due to the fact they “aren’t a celebrity.” I don’t like that because I believe in going back to my roots, and that is why I have an office in Philadelphia. I never want that to deter people from approaching me. We’re real; we’re gritty; we love working with people that have products on the table. We’ve even taken on a number of pro bono clients who can’t afford the services. We want to be connected with them because we know we can do good work.
Any funny Serena stories you can share?
Yeah! I never thought that someone like her would meet at her house, but our first meeting was there. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t want to fly out by myself, so I had my husband go with me and I called him my manager. We get there and Venus walks in with some popcorn, and offers me some. I thought I was in The Twilight Zone! You see them, but never in their own living rooms! She asked us to go with her to practice, and I asked her if my “manager” could go with us. She smirked and said, “What if he stayed with Venus and helped her move some pool furniture?” So we go to the car, and my husband’s all excited because he gets to stay with Venus. In the car, Serena looks at me says, “Rakia…is that your man or your manager?” And I was like, “Aaahh How did you know?! I’m sorry—I was a little nervous.” And she said, “Girl, I knew he was your man the way you two were looking at one another!”