Prowly #PRChat with Tonya McKenzie, Founder at Sand&Shores Firm

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to host a podcast? How much effort does it really take and how to find the time for it? If so, you’ll find answers to these (and many other) questions in this #PRChat with the PR and podcast pro – Tonya McKenzie.

Limiting what she does to just one sentence is impossible. Tonya is a founder of the Sand & Shores PR and Leadership firm with over 20 years of experience.  She’s also a Los Angeles County Commissioner. On top of that she hosts not one, but two amazing podcasts: My Morning Coffee and Leaders & Learners, and organizes #PRLunchHour – live meetings on Twitter Space. Plus – since September, Tonya has become Prowly’s brand ambassador, meaning we support each other with all activities and can’t wait for new upcoming projects.

Enough about the future – now it’s time to dive into the PR topics with Tonya and learn her tips on storytelling and how to never run out of content.


What differences do you see between creating PR strategies for non-profit and private organizations?

Non-profit organizations are deeply rooted in doing good, contributing to society, and being a solution. It comes with the branding of being a nonprofit. The general public already knows that you do good things.

The challenge comes with sharing who you help, how you help them, and the story or stories that have brought you to the present point. The strategy is based around which story, the elements of that story, and how you are impacting lives as opposed to private companies. They do not necessarily have to contribute to any charity or cause.

With private companies, the strategy is based on who they (the company) are, what they do or produce, and why their target audience should care. The strategy has to find creative ways to communicate their differences, their unique selling proposition, and how they are solving a problem in a unique way. Most importantly, the strategy should include a cause to champion that is authentic to the company’s brand and mission.


Can you tell us a bit more about the podcasts you’re hosting?

Leaders & Learners is my company’s podcast. I speak with elected leaders, organizational leaders, experts, authors, and artists. They share their stories of overcoming trauma, tragedy, and setbacks, and how they learned to triumph.

In PR, many times we as practitioners struggle to get clients to understand that the best PR isn’t flashy and sexy. It’s the stories that resonate with the public and trigger them to get to know, like, and trust our clients. It’s showing how one expresses their thought leadership. Leaders and Learners can be heard on Spotify, Apple, Google, and other places you listen to and watch your favorite shows. Spotify is audio and visual.

I co-host My Morning Coffee Podcast with Gia Neil, a 30-year plus Lieutenant for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. We are both members of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and we lost a sister to suicide a few years ago. Our effort to heal and exploratory revelation motivated us to start a safe space where we can talk about the tough issues in a nonjudgmental way with others that may be going through tough times or even have news to celebrate.

Our conversation is always hot, bold, and full of flavor! Nothing is off limits, and everything is on the table. From celebrities to small business owners and grassroots activists, My Morning Coffee is the best way to start your morning.


How do you manage to have time to host two podcasts and not run out of content?

One thing is for sure, change is inevitable. And that makes people uncomfortable. We love uncomfortable spaces. Having discussions that matter, that teach, that elevate, and that empower always delivers an unexplored path. Our best content comes from people. None are the same. No problem is the same. Even with solutions, math teaches you that we can all get to the same answer but how we get there can vary. The journey is the story, the content.


What are the best three storytelling examples you’ve ever seen in PR?

  • Everything involving Ben & Jerry’s is always a great example because they stay on brand, always take a stand, and cause a social reaction. I feel like people run out and support them even more when something happens.
  • George Floyd and his story have been great for storytelling. As traumatic as it was to watch what happened to him, the stories about his life, the lives of the witnesses, his family, and the city have resonated with the public. The way that these stories are told, you find that we have more in common than we think.
  • Abbot Elementary (ABC) has done some of the best storytelling. They have told the story of the show and the leadership. Getting the public to know and care about how a show started is unique. They then engaged us with their characters. The reality is, most of us have had teachers and administrators similar to their characters. The show resonates with a large part of the population. They talk about things that we can all relate to. Great storytelling.


What skills do you think PRs need to be successful long-term?

PR Pros need to be good writers and connectors. Everything that we do involves writing, from pitches to proposals. We correspond with reporters and the media. Especially since we are in a digital world, our ability to communicate through writing has to be thorough and clear without being excessive. Value is placed on public relations professionals with a robust network. You build your network by being a good communicator. They go hand in hand.  The better you are at both, the better you will be as a PR professional.


How do you stay in the know about your media contacts and their beat?

I am a member of several PR, comms, and leadership groups. This allows me to stay connected to changes in the media landscape in real-time. We share news, updates, hot topics in the field, and ideas to explore to get in front of stories. I maintain relationships with the media by staying in conversation, not just when I need to pitch a story. Having mutually beneficial interactions always works out for the best.

I am in groups on Facebook like Women in PR, Resect the Publicist, and Publicist for the Culture. I am in LinkedIn groups. I am a Co-Founder of #PRLunchHour on Twitter Spaces and I serve as Vice President of the Black Public Relations Society of Los Angeles.


As a PR pro with over 20 years of experience – what trends do you see in PR that you’re excited about?

  • More podcast measurements and AI seem to be on the rise. For me, a podcaster and somebody that finds value in getting my clients booked on shows, this is amazing. Also, more podcast platforms are offering audio AND visual content which is a dynamic way to add context to the conversation.
  • Social Commerce is a trend on the rise that will greatly benefit the industry. When PR efforts trigger a reader or viewer to want to learn more about a brand or buy something from that brand right where they are consuming the information, it’s a win for the client and the professional. In real-time, you can witness the impact. Even though our job isn’t to increase profits, it certainly shows our worth.
  • PR as a business solution is a rising trend. When a company measures the results of its marketing and brand awareness, more often than not, they find that they have not deployed a comprehensive PR strategy. When done right, it solves many of the possible problems and fills the gaps that are left when a good brand is not connecting its products and services to its target market.