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HHS grad is making strides in the marketing world

When Jenna Ballinger graduated from Hastings High School in 2010, she was expecting her college career would lead her to the film industry. These days, she's well on her way to a career in communications and marketing.

Ballinger attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for filmmaking initially, but after a year decided it wasn't what she really wanted. As she went through her classes, she realized that she didn't have a knack for making films, but she did have a knack for getting the right people together and producing films.

In her third semester, Ballinger switched programs and joined the entrepreneurial studies program, where she's learning the ins and outs of marketing and public relations.

While it might seem odd to some people to study marketing at an art school, it makes perfect sense to Ballinger.

"There's a really big advantage to going into business at an art school, especially if you want to go into advertising," she said.

At school, she's surrounded by artists and creative people - the same people she aims to work with once she gets her degree. Working with artists, she said, is "incredibly different" than working with non-artists, because artists often don't have the same business sense. But that's where she comes in.

MCAD is also very project oriented, so her study is more focused on actual work than tests and lectures.

"We constantly get real clients, and it's so nice to have that and not have what you call hypothetical clients," she said.

Ballinger already has a list of real-world clients she's worked with on marketing projects - places like Allina, Kindest Cut (a spay/neuter program) and the MCAD entrepreneurial studies program itself.

This year, Ballinger was able to get into the work study program for the first time. She had been doing janitorial work for the previous two years, but for work study she wanted something closer to her field of study.

"It's the first year I've had it and I really wanted to do something I love," she said.

She emailed the head of communications at MCAD and explained her situation. The next week she had an interview, and after that one interview she was offered a job. Now she's tasked with marketing the school's annual art sale - the nation's largest college art sale, she said. The show attracts thousands of visitors and sells more than 2,500 pieces in less than 13 hours. It has raised more than $1.8 million for artists in its 15 years.

Ballinger's job includes writing public relations pitches for alumni and student artists who have had high sales in past years at the art sale and sending those pitches to the artists' hometowns. Any publication that returns an interest in featuring the artist replies back to Ballinger, and she works to connect the artist with the publication. She also gives the artists pointers for their interviews.

Balllinger's favorite project so far is figuring out how to do an aerial photo shoot of the school for the MCAD website. She's been looking into things like toy helicopters, kites and balloons as ways to get a camera in the sky above campus. Another project she's looking forward to is creating a video of the most fashionable students at the school. Because it's an art school, the outfits can be wildly different, she said.

Ballinger is looking forward to continuing her work with the MCAD communications department until she graduates in May, 2014. After that, she's hoping to find herself in an internship with VH1 in New York doing social media marketing. She's already applied for the spot. Among her goals is becoming a junior publicist at an entertainment publicist firm in New York or Los Angeles.

"I would like to work with young actors just getting into the business and help them create their careers," she said.

Another hope, she said, is that she can return to Hastings and talk to the students at the high school here about her experience.

"I feel like a lot of people, they love art but they're not artists. And they're not sure how to get into the art field," she said.