Meet NMCO’s co-founder, creative director and North Star, Christina Ballew, AKA Tina! Once upon a time in 2012, Tina moved to New Mexico, the land of enchantment. Shortly after, she started her own small graphic design business which, with the help of her trusty co-founder, Lucky Gonzalez, soon grew and expanded, sprouting NMCO Media. Tina is a tenured graphic designer, entrepreneur and has expertise in branding, client retention, industry trends and media strategy. When Tina isn’t leading the NMCO creatives in production she’s hanging out with NMCO’s unofficial mascot, Kahlo the pit bull, working on her personal visual art or participating as chair of the Las Cruces City art board.
Q: Why did you pursue this path?
Christina Ballew (CB): You know, as a kid I was always making things and building things. I even won awards for drawing when I was in kindergarten, which is crazy to me. My mom has this story about a five year old me “directing” my step dad when he was drawing. He was a really great illustrator and artist, and I would cry if he didn’t listen in MY direction. I think that was just who I was and who I am now, but with less crying. I’ve always had a sensitivity to art, connections and communication.
Q: When you first started your independent graphic design business did you ever imagine you’d end up in your present position with NMCO as a leader and owner?
CB: Oh gosh no. I had no notions on what the future of the business would look like. I just knew I wanted to fill in a gap that I didn’t experience in this area; Ethically focused business with industry design standards and heartfelt storytelling. I had goals and strategy, but I wanted to ride the wave as long as I could with the anticipation that it could all evaporate the next day. That pushed me very hard. But the region has spoken, they want and need this type of thinking. You don’t have to go to LA for quality design and production.
Q: What inspires you?
CB: My clients do. No week is ever the same because they all produce their own set of challenges and identities, it’s like a funnel of problem solving and inspiration just coming to me. Other than that, other creative minded people or agencies that are on a national or international level. I’m always absorbing as much information as I can from the commercial creative industry. Then of course, our local creatives. We all really push each other.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a creative and an entrepreneur?
CB: I think the biggest challenge is to constantly prove your capabilities as a creative and a business owner. I evaluate every direction and think critically on almost every production that comes into NMCO. I do this to take the mental load off the client and to think objectively about that product or brand, but sometimes the client may have a bias that they can’t let go that could limit their own business. At the end of the day, that’s ok, it’s a new set of parameters that we have to work within.
Q: What is your process for creative direction?
CB: First, I want to understand and identify with the project. I listen to the objectives and goals of the client. Then I may come up with a brief or production outline to make sure we are all on the same page. Afterwards I go into research mode and try to absorb as much information about the client and their industry as possible.
Then I delegate to the team that will be assigned the project. Sometimes I may have a strong vision that needs to be implemented but my goal is to ensure the client’s vision and objectives are executed in a way that makes sense to their target. I also jump in where it’s needed and it’s truly different for each project. I may write a script one day, rename a company the next, help outline the website and then help shape a logo or identity. When working with so many components, a project can easily end up feeling disjointed. I’m quality control and the client’s voice within the studio.
The other side of that coin is to nurture, inspire and push the creative team. I really push them to think further and explore their own creativity. I’m sure that I throw a lot of things at them and they are nervous or scared that they may not be able to execute it. There is a level of trust with each other and knowing that we will see it through together. We always end up making something amazing.
Q: What are some guidelines for managing/producing innovative and quality content?
CB: On top of fundamentals and principles, be open to the process and be comfortable getting uncomfortable. Also, nurture your authentic voice. Don’t try to be like everyone else.
Q: What advice would you give to someone starting in the creative industry?
CB: Stay focused and don’t give up. I think for the first 5 years of my career, the only thing I heard was that I didn’t have enough experience. It was deflating. I knew that I had a perspective and skillset, heck..even a talent that could contribute to society, I just kept pushing through and focused on exactly where I wanted to be. It was a winding road, but I got there. You’ll get there too.
Also, accept criticism gracefully. It may be hard, but it will always be part of the process. You will look at work that you thought was amazing 10 years later and think, yeah, that kind of sucked, that client had every right to challenge me.
Q: Any design knowledge you’d like to share?
CB: Make sure you invest in a quality logo and identity system. It leads the tone for everything; video, web, even company culture. It should be just as important as your business license and business plan. It’s a business priority, so don’t have your 15 year old cousin make it for you for free. It’s an investment at first, but it’s more costly down the road to not do it right from the get go.
Q: If you could give people any tips on running/starting a business, what would they be?
CB: You have to be unapologetically focused on the problem you want to solve and make it clear to the public that you are an expert in that solution. I see a lot of businesses and entrepreneurs that try to scale too fast and lose resources, or have a mix match of services. Like a jewelry boutique owner that also does consulting for businesses on ergonomic furniture and is also selling Doterra on the side. That confuses people, and when they are confused they don’t trust you.
Q: What are your favorite projects that you have worked on?
CB: There’s too many to list, but from the top of my head,
Women’s day projects are always special, but we took a break on those because of the pandemic.
Aaron Lacombe’s “Pictures of Ourselves” music video. This one was tough to direct. It was a stop motion theme and it was challenging to articulate how the graphics and footage lead from one scene to the next. Ralph Diaz (animator) and I broke a lot of barriers in that one but we got it done!
The 2020 Census for Otero County, I had to create every asset in the first set of animations. I loved thinking about the different demographics that Otero County wanted to represent and then watching Carlos Arreola (animator) bring them to life. We later did a series of commercials called “Avoid the Knock” that were so fun to write and produce.
Q: How do NMCO creative services help/elevate businesses?
CB: Without our services, your business can be a faceless man. Creepy.
People are passionate about their business and their organizations mission or products, and we’re really passionate about expressing that to the public in creative ways. It can be a really great partnership.
Q: What’s on your creative bucket list?
- Directing a documentary
- Directing a musical style commercial
- Designing a beer label
- Publishing a coloring book
- Creating and directing a multimedia life size experience
Q: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
CB: What won’t you see from me (us) in the future?
Mural work for La Vida project, the City of Las Cruces’ Reimagine Bring your Bag campaign, and even a Christmas music video for Ziemba.
To learn more about different agencies check out “3 Types of Agencies”.