Ryan Kalei Tsuji
Ryan Kalei Tsuji’s job was to tell Hawai‘i’s stories as they unfolded. From covering a fire on the North Shore to swimming in a shark cage on live television, Tsuji got to know his home and the people in it like never before. He took pride in getting out of bed before the sun came up to keep locals plugged in to the best and worst that every day had to offer.
Tsuji’s road to on-camera news started during his time at the
University of Hawai‘i at M a–noa, where he parlayed his love of sports into a student manager position for the Rainbow Wahine volleyball team and then to an assistant coaching job. After earning degrees in communications and political science and a master’s degree in public administration, Tsuji was the perfect candidate for color commentating at Wahine games. He became a sports reporter for Hawaii News Now, then secured a coveted morning news anchor/reporter spot at KITV, where he discovered just how much influence great video could have.
But television didn’t occupy him for long. In 2014, Tsuji made a bold career shift into politics, following in his dad’s footsteps, and was asked to help run Senator David Ige’s campaign for governor. After the election, he stayed on to handle Ige’s external affairs, accompanying the governor to events, writing copy points, spearheading public relations efforts and managing relations with Washington, D.C. and internationally.
Politics didn’t tie Tsuji down, either. That urge to return to storytelling became undeniable. “I began to think of ways to combine what I was learning in the governor’s office with my experience in front of the camera, and I realized there were a lot of organizations looking for their stories to be told,” he says. “It was a really tough decision, giving up that relationship to take a risk for something no one else is doing.”
In March of 2016, Tsuji launched RKT Media to help companies and nonprofits dramatically increase their exposure in both news media and social media. He assembled a team of professionals and scheduled 10 sales meetings a week to educate contacts on the company’s unique niche. A few big-name clients early on helped the business take shape, and today RKT Media creates digital content for 62 businesses, including Hawai‘i Pacific Health, Starwood Hotels and Resorts and Bank of Hawaii. The company’s crew of eight reporters and five videographers covers events, sends out video news release content to media outlets and produces two- to three-minute video narratives that clients can use on social media and other digital media platforms.
RKT Media fills the gap in conventional media by allowing smaller stories a chance to get air time. “We’re all former news reporters and anchors who understand how to get a story done, how to do it quickly and also condense it in a way that’s tangible for this digital age,” Tsuji says. “We bring that narrative voice—that reporter style mentality—and present it in a way that’s appealing to this generation and audience.”
Tsuji’s success is born of his commitment to stay on top of what’s happening in the media and digital landscape—like adding Facebook Live reporting to the company’s list of services. “People aren’t waiting until 5 o’clock to see what the headlines are,” he says. “If you present it in a compelling way and put it online, that’s what’s going to attract attention and exposure to your product or service.”
Another key factor in RKT Media’s growth is Tsuji’s ability to empower his team. “As entrepreneurs, we are putting our blood, sweat and tears on the line and it can be difficult to let go,” he says. “One of the most important things I’ve had to learn is just being able to trust the people you’ve brought into your circle and allow them the freedom to do what they do best.” Losing his father, Hawai‘i Island Representative Clift Tsuji, last November was a big setback for Tsuji, but the way his staff rallied to help the company soldier on solidified the true value of hiring incredible people. “We had all these shoots lined up,” Tsuji says. “It was a tough few months to get through and our team really stepped up. They were able to steer the ship for me for those few months while I was sidelined.”
Tsuji’s goal with RKT Media is to become the go-to name for digital storytelling and exposure on social media, news and digital platforms in the islands. Every day, he’s brainstorming creative ways to get people to interact with their clients’ brands and share stories on their own platform—like the hula flash mob the company organized at JFK International Airport to celebrate Hawaiian Airlines’ five years of service to New York, or the social media campaign with Make-a-Wish Hawai‘i that raised $9,000 by attaching a dollar value to likes on social media. “We’re seeing an evolution in how stories are told, and they’re 100 percent interactive now,” Tsuji says. “It’s a complete shift in advertising mentality. You’re not investing money in ad buys and commercial time, you’re investing money in the experience.”
Some might say Tsuji left opportunity on the table when he walked away from a rising career in politics, but he can’t imagine it any other way. “Once you become a reporter, it’s in your DNA,” he says. “Being able to tell stories in a visual manner, it’s really exciting. And there are so many great stories out there from companies that are doing great things in our community. If we can play a small part and bring life to those stories, that’s what continues to motivate me.”