Rakia Reynolds: Be Bold and Lead by Example
July 20, 2021
Rakia Reynolds knows firsthand what it means to embrace change.
When she was downsized out of her job, Rakia turned entrepreneur and seized the opportunity to launch her nontraditional communications agency, Skai Blue Media. Now 10 years on, Rakia and her team serve such major brands and iconic figures as Airbnb, Comcast, Dell, Serena Williams, Morgan Stanley, and Jill Scott.
But Rakia’s thought leadership isn’t just reserved for her client’s good.
Her proven authority in marketing and multicultural communications place Rakia in high demand. She’s a regular contributor to the pages of Forbes, Inc.com, HuffPost and Fast Company. She’s spoken at TEDx, SXSW, Inbound, and others. And when it comes to current corporate leadership around diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA), Rakia is outspoken about the effort still required in order to effect meaningful change.
She’s a leader, an innovator, and committed to authenticity in every communication. That’s why we listed Rakia as a rising marketer to watch. In this conversation, she touches on topics like marketing leadership in the face of social change, the need today for a dedicated crisis communications team, the rapid evolution of social media, and three key metrics she encourages would-be entrepreneurs to always ask themselves.
LinkedIn: Congratulations on the recent 10-year anniversary of Skai Blue Media! Tell us about the vision that inspired you to start this "non traditional agency."
Rakia Reynolds: I’ve always taken the road less traveled, whether it was how I tackled school assignments, the way I wore my hair, or how I’ve built my business.
More than a decade ago I was working for a traditional PR company and as a television producer, dealing with the industry rigamarole, knowing that something greater was around the corner. When my production company downsized and I lost my job, I seized that opportunity to reassess my career goals and open up my own agency. Named after my first born daughter, Skai, and related to my study of color psychology, I decided to use “Blue,” as it translates to trust, authenticity, serenity, and reliability. I founded Skai Blue Media to start an agency that was authentic to my own experience as a creative storyteller, TV producer, and strategic communicator.
The fact that I am a Black woman thriving in this industry for 10 years is not lost on me; we have built something special and will continue to represent some of the most recognizable brands and individuals across the globe.
LI: What's one area where you feel most B2B marketers are missing the mark when it comes to branding?
Rakia: As someone who is passionate about color theory, storytelling, and personal branding techniques, I always advise our clients to focus their branding efforts on six building blocks, with each block representing an element upon which a sustainable brand is built upon. These Core Brand Values are relayed through verbal, non-verbal, visual, and written communications, and expressed via social media, traditional media, and connected through digital humanity (how you interact and connect with your network online in the digital world).
LI: Which marketing technologies and innovations are exciting/energizing you most right now?
Rakia: There are so many innovations and new technologies being introduced that it’s sometimes hard to keep up with them all! Two areas continue to excite me: the first is the rapid pace at which social media is evolving. The tools those platforms continue to offer users and the fact that so much content can be “user” generated is always fascinating to watch and experience. Engaging conversations with calls to action have increased exponentially which, in turn, has sparked more creativity and sharing.
I am also energized by the advances in the use of AI technology and am closely monitoring how it is being developed, and how it will ultimately be used. There are many instances where AI is already exhibiting cultural bias, and that needs to be addressed before we get any deeper into its use.
LI: What do you view as the primary inhibitors of diversity and inclusion in the business world, and how can today’s leaders actively confront them?
Rakia: In the past year, articles, op-eds, think pieces and the like have proliferated on DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility) in the corporate world. While many companies have publicly agreed to make changes and, to their credit, have hired people to lead their DEIA efforts, very little has occurred to show any substantive, real change. Much has been said about really “doing” the work — but the results (increased representation of diverse individuals in decision-making positions, recognition of and addressing implicit bias, etc.) have been lackluster.
Leaders need to be vulnerable, be open to hearing what employees are experiencing, and make a true commitment to addressing these issues in the workplace. These same changemakers should move past their reluctance to take action, bypassing the fear of public reaction, stockholder inquiries, and being called out on social media. Now is the time to be bold and lead by example.
LI: What's the most indispensable lesson you've learned in your various entrepreneurial ventures?
Rakia: The entrepreneurial journey usually leads you down paths you might not have expected or wanted. It’s hard to narrow the invaluable gems that were shared with me.
However, I have a few key questions I encourage every entrepreneur to ask themselves:
- Do I have the passion to sustain my goals?
- Do I have mentors/advisors that can keep me on track if I start to waver and, later on, do I have the right people surrounding me (or what I call my personal Board of Advisors)?
- Do I have a realistic view of the funding and equipment I will need to make my idea succeed?
At the end of the day though, the most valuable lesson has been learning that you have to listen to and engage with your customers/clients. They are the best sounding board you will have.
LI: The last year has obviously been a turbulent one for society, with COVID lockdowns and civil unrest stemming from George Floyd's killing. What do you view as the biggest challenges of the past 12+ months from a marketing standpoint?
Rakia: Numerous companies are in a holding pattern as they wait to see how others address topical, sensitive events, and how their response aligns with their internal core values. Racism, abelism, and discrimination will not magically disappear. The more people work to change the systems that keep these practices in place, the better. For everyone.
Having a crisis communications team (or “Urgent Care,” as we say at Skai Blue Media) is no longer a luxury — it is essential. Companies should have a group that works in tandem with the marketing team, head of Diversity and Inclusion, and other key stakeholders so that as issues/situations arise that require a timely response, they are all already well-versed on the ‘how,’ the ‘what,’ and the ‘why. The next big conversation will be if these entities decide to stick to “business as usual” and not engage and deal with the consequences (employee and customer dissatisfaction), or embrace change and the willingness to do and be different.
LI: What content is giving you life?
Rakia: At Skai Blue Media, our client board is like a juried exhibition. We represent people, places, and things across numerous verticals including tech, lifestyle, finance, literature, entertainment, and the like. So it’s vital that the team and I stay current on many topics. With that said, there is so much available content that I recommend conducting a personal audit and really focus on the most reliable sources that provide quality content on a regular basis.
There is a caveat to that though: since I live at the intersection of creativity and business I try to balance what I read for my personal interests and those that I need for work. Both are just as important to me. A few recommendations:
- Fast Company and Wired, to keep up with some of the best and brightest entrepreneurs
- The Root, for in-depth, thought-provoking, and sometimes hilarious coverage of topics that impact the Black community
- YouTube, especially users that use a lot of colors in storytelling
- Cooking content shows the beginning, middle and end, and how you create something
- Episodic content on streaming platforms, where creators create in the form of episodic & turn their content into webisodic content
- Mixed media formats and comedy on TikTok
LI: How do you use LinkedIn to grow your thought leadership and engage your audience?
Rakia: LinkedIn has offered a ‘lifeline’ to so many people during the past year. It continues to evolve from a primarily networking platform to an engaged community where people can share content on all various topics and participate in important conversations. As a marketing professional, I utilize different platforms but LinkedIn is where I can readily communicate with my peers and clients, share content I think is useful to others, and be notified when someone in my network does something noteworthy. As a thought leader, my connections to others has grown considerably since LinkedIn offers a formal method for others to reach out to me. I have met so many incredible people this way, and I haven’t experienced this level of professional connection on other platforms.
LI: Any final thoughts?
Rakia: The need to adopt a learning lens is greater than ever. It’s exciting to see that LinkedIn has announced the LinkedIn Learning Hub. The more valuable and useful information that can be made available for both individuals and businesses about potential training opportunities and career progression, the better. This is a game-changer.
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