• Smoke Signal Media

Elated Entrepreneur: Introducing Co-Founder Tracy Riggs

An entrepreneur?? I still have difficulty calling myself something with such a heavy title. Besides, titles, at times, sound pretentious. Looking ahead though, it seems to ring true to every thing I am, at my core.

From the time I was a small child, I wanted to do so many different things. From playing zookeeper, to teacher, to mystery author, and event planner, there wasn’t much that I didn’t enjoy doing. This made choosing a career difficult, and I changed my major in college so many times, that my parents told me to pick something and just stick with it. So, with a good college friend for support and accountability, I walked into the admissions building at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga and chose Art Education, determined never to look back. I graduated with honors and scholarships (a complete geek), and headed into a career inspired by my high school art teacher, who seemed to have more fun than any other adult I knew.

While in college, I had an epic opportunity to study for nine months in Israel and spent two summers living in England and Italy, respectively. Since then, I have taken trips to Japan, Peru, South Africa, and many and more cultures, having a lust for adventure that carries over into the work that I do. My travels enriched my classroom for a decade and a half, as I shared my experiences with culture to my curious visual art students.

Flash-forward 15 years - my career in art education had been very rewarding and I was always a person who told everyone how much I loved my job. However, the scope of public education, including art education, was changing. As an educator, I loved the students and loved the realm of visual arts with all the magic it brought to every person who was willing to learn. However, the more things changed within education, the more my anxiety increased within my daily work. My hands were tied as far as how much I could help students with troubling home situations; there was only so much I could give while student’s lives became increasingly difficult. After they left the classroom, many of my kids went home to single-parent homes, where that parent often checked out on drugs, alcohol, or whatever level they had reached on candy crush. These students were often tasked with making dinner, helping their siblings with homework, or at the worst, chose to run away from the problems. The lifestyles of parents were affecting the students, and in turn, the landscape of the classroom became very unstable. That shift left me feeling helpless and the problems seemed to be beyond my ability to know what to do next. Anxiety and frustration won over, and I left the field. I had never walked away from a career before - art education had been my life’s work. Once out, though, my entire demeanor changed. My husband, Chad, noticed the difference immediately, and our home life grew while my anxiety lessened. Attempting to figure out the next step, I substituted teaching to make money, which reminded me too much of being in the classroom – the stresses of the student’s lives pouring out of the classroom, cafeteria, and playground, back into my personal life. Eventually, I stepped out of that role as well. My passion for education instead inspired me to pursue a master’s degree in business administration from a local university.

Because of my broad field of interests and passion for education, I would have chosen to go to school full-time, granted I could find a decent salary. I thrive while in school and excelled in my MBA program while also attending to my additional roles of wife, a business partner with Rigazzi Wellness, and training for my first metric century mountain bike ride. During the summer of my first year in the program, I was hired as an intern at a small marketing agency where I learned web development and design on several platforms, graphic design techniques, content writing, and brand management, as well as discovering how to become an effective marketer. Due to my high performance during my internship, the firm offered me a full-time position, which I accepted with gusto. I was learning so much about marketing and was driven to learn the most effective strategies to grow companies based upon tactics grounded in authenticity and transparency, while still having an air of fun. I read additional books and articles, listened to numerous podcasts, and grew my love for the field of brand management. My aspirations quickly outgrew the company I was working with and leaving gave me further opportunity to spread my wings.

My desire for flexible work patterns, balanced lifestyle, and mold-shattering brand messaging pushed the decision to strike out on my own. A cubicle was not going to fulfill my growing understanding that life is too short and too precious to not be doing what makes my heart sing.

As a brand manager, I weave in my passion for education into creating opportunities for clients by leading them to take actionable steps, based upon their own ideas. I find it energizing to apply researched knowledge to a client’s campaign and watching as they get excited and move forward with science-backed evidence of company growth. It was right before this time that Rachel had been guiding me into designing meaningful content with social media and writing with heart and creativity. With these two things in mind, Smoke Signal Media Productions was born close to our hearts. Once Rachel and I started working together, we knew the sky was the limit. Companies and other small businesses started approaching us asking for help.

Aside from our new startup, you can find me traveling with my husband, Chad, our two dogs, Titan and Mogul, going on really long mountain bike rides with girlfriends, practicing and teaching yoga, dreaming of more splitboarding, and embracing my inner artist. I make time every day to be physically active which led to my first entrepreneurial endeavor, Rigazzi Mobile Wellness. I love my active, adventurous, vegetarian life. I recently summited Kilimanjaro, and hope to soon visit Hawaii, the last state in the United States on my list to visit. You can often find me on the trails of the Urban Wilderness, in local coffee shops, and eating bagels.

From the young girl with a myriad of decisions, I have planted myself firmly on the ground in entrepreneurship. Together, with Rachel, we have begun co-creating with local and national businesses to truly help them harness their truest voice, tell their story, and give them wings...all the while this dream of working in a small brand management company is becoming a reality.

#entrepreneur #brandmanagement #adventure #knoxville