Designing Smart Brand Management

Entrepreneur Maureen Ballatori ‘08 blends intentional, efficient, and quirky approaches

by Robin L. Flanigan

Maureen Ballatori

As a junior at Nazareth College, hoping to be self-employed someday, Maureen Ballatori ’08 started a freelancing side project called 29 Design Studio — a boutique agency specializing in branding, strategic marketing, and creative graphic design.

The business grew steadily, and she got her wish. Today the agency has two locations, in Rochester and Geneva; works with roughly 50 ongoing clients; and employs a digital marketing strategist and an art director.

“A lot of our work focuses on smart brand management,” says Ballatori. “We talk to our clients about what it is they want to do and where they want to grow their business. What is it about what they’re trying to accomplish that makes them different from the next guy who’s trying to do the same thing? It’s about the big picture of how to get them there.”

29 Design Studio works mainly with clients in the food, beverage, and agricultural industries. Ballatori grew up on a dairy farm, and her husband works for a meal delivery service in the Finger Lakes, so the niche seemed a natural fit. The couple lives with their two young children in Clifton Springs, a short drive to Geneva, where Ballatori helps run Port 100, a coworking community in which her studio is a shared space. She has frequent meetings in Rochester, so she opened a second location for convenience.

Ballatori has always had an eye for what makes a design appealing to the buyer: “Even thinking back to the first job I had when I was 15, in a grocery store as a cashier, I was always fluffing the merchandise and decorating displays for Christmas. That significantly relates to the work I do now in terms of packaging, or website design. It’s all about wanting the consumer to buy something, or take action.”

She studied studio art, graphic design, and illustration at Nazareth.

To keep and draw the agency’s own clients, 29 Design Studio distributes a monthly newsletter summarizing recent highlights and offering advice. The December 2018 edition included a link to a “must-have tool” for starting off the New Year right — a calendar showing alpacas living in hotels and other luxurious locales.

“It’s fun blending the professional and the quirky,” says Ballatori, “and it speaks a lot to what it’s like working with us.”

For Ballatori, being comfortable articulating her own brand started with her senior capstone project at Nazareth.

“That was the first opportunity I had to talk intelligently about what I created and why,” she says. “In order to be successful in running your own agency, that’s something you have to do incredibly well every single day, off the cuff.”

Despite her company’s success, Ballatori is quick to reach out to current and former owners of bigger agencies for advice when she’s debating a decision, such as whether to focus her agency on a certain niche. (She’s still weighing that choice.)

Exploring options from every angle is how 29 Design Studio helps clients compete using meaningful messaging.

“We pride ourselves on not just doing something that’s going to pass, but doing something that’s intentional and smart and efficient,” Ballatori says. “Those things, coming into the work we’re creating, take our clients to the next level.”

Robin L. Flanigan is a writer in Rochester, New York. Photo by Katie Finnerty.

Maureen's Advice

Though it sounds cliché, students who want to make a living using their creative talents should never stop learning: “In a lot of ways, I’ve been able to power through challenges I’ve faced by asking for help when I needed it. That forever pursuit of learning and growing has served me well.”