By Sean Dowdall, CMO
Barbara Ballinger’s entrepreneurial spirit runs as deep as her smile – and that’s one of the many things we love about her. A veteran writing and communications professional, Barbara covers everything from real estate and interior design to personal finance and the arts. We’re excited to share this insight into this heartwarming and funny person who we’re also proud to call our friend.
Tell us about your background.
I grew up in suburban New York, went to a women’s college that’s part of a large university, and had planned to be an artist—specifically a painter. However, I took one journalism class offered to undergrads and was hooked. I went on to earn my Master’s in Art (art history and studio), but then got a job using my knowledge of art and architecture in a writing job at House & Garden magazine’s special publications, which no longer exist. I loved the job and my first boss was the best. He let us pursue stories and interests we wanted to write. I got to the White House and State Department for a story on its superb American antiques collection and to Santa Fe and Oaxaca, Mexico, for stories on their crafts. It was a time when “starchitects” like Richard Meier were just emerging and constructing houses in the Hamptons and elsewhere. When I noticed newspapers were adding business sections, I started work on my M.B.A. to write about finance. When I moved to St. Louis, I became a member of the business news department at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. I then learned to write fast and on deadlines. I also wrote one of my first books on family business, Corporate Bloodlines: The Future of the Family Firm, a profile of 14 businesses around the country. Because of a move next to Chicago, I started my freelance writing career which is now in its 31st year. It’s allowed me to write about everything from design to art, law, food, entertaining, medical, celebrities and more. I’ve interviewed Martha Stewart five times, Tipper Gore, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Danny Meyers and many others.
Why did you choose writing as a career?
I feel it chose me. I love to learn, research and tell a story. I fall into the Nora Ephron category. I believe that everything is copy. I’m a curious person, ask questions (sometimes too many) and love writing and sharing what I learn. At 71, I still love what I do and love that I keep learning. What’s sad is how the industry has changed so much—fewer publications so it’s harder to get articles placed.
What do you like about writing a book? Writing an article?
An article should be something current in the news, a trend or something that helps people right now. I’ve been writing a lot of articles for the National Association of Realtors® and the National Apartment Association’s magazine and website related to the pandemic—how modular design provides fast solutions, how nursing homes and elder communities will change in the future, and how summer rentals are so popular there’s little inventory in many destinations. Books reflect a topic that requires more time and depth. My last book, Suddenly Single after 50, reflects the shared journey writing partner Margaret “Meg” Crane and I took. I was divorced after 31 years while Meg was widowed after 42 years. We wrote about our personal stories and offered advice to others experiencing singlehood for the first time after being married at age 22. Books require more time and patience but are rewarding when they get published.
What are your interests outside of writing?
I love to give talks about my work and books. I also love to cook and bake as did my mom and my daughters today. I like to write about food for the storytelling website, Eat, Darling, Eat. And I love to read books about cooking whether Marcus Samuelson’s Yes, Chef, Jacques Pepin’s Apprentice, Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone or Eric Ripert’s 32 Yolks—all some of my favorites. I also love to paint—having gone back to my roots after a family vacation and taking a hike and paint class. My web guru developed www.barbaraballingerpaintings.com. I love to garden and have nice perennial beds at my 1797 home in a small upstate New York village. I also have two grandsons and one elderly mom, 100, living in New York. And I have a beau, as I call him, post-divorce. We were a fixup, the old-fashioned way to meet.
What advice do you have for PR folks pitching you?
Send me an email ([email protected]) for an idea, but have it relate to the work I write about. Please don’t call me first since I’m busy writing—or maybe cooking. Through the years, I’ve become good friends with many of my “best” PR sources.
What are you writing about now (articles and books)?
Right now, I’m writing an article about affordable house trends and also one on real estate folks who discovered a new niche to pursue during the pandemic. We’re researching a few ideas for the weekly blog Meg and I write, titled www.lifelessonsat50plus.com. One will relate to narcissism and how it manifests itself in different ways. My current book, co-authored with Meg, is about the ageing process and how to navigate the terrain given the many minefields.