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Putting Cadillac Back on Track

February 23, 2012

With a job (and a life) that is far from boring, Veda Partalo helps reenergize the Cadillac brand.

Like most professionals, Veda Partalo states her career objective on her resume, yet it's not what you'd expect from a business school graduate.

Partalo's objective is simply... "Not to be bored in life."

That statement has been on her resume since graduating from the Carlson School (BSB '04).

"Coming out of the Carlson School I had one simple rule, which was that I wanted to be comfortable wherever I was," says Partalo, who emigrated from Bosnia to the U.S. at age 14. "I was a little bit weirder than most students and I acknowledge that. I came in with a lot of tattoos, I worked at First Ave. for most of my college years, and so it was really interesting trying to find a job that would be just as accepting of me as I would be of it. What I found at Fallon was actually that."

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Fallon, the internationally acclaimed ad agency has been creating inspiring ads for more than 30 years. Of their many high-profile clients, one is Cadillac, which is the account on which Partalo serves as planning director.

"Our job is to understand what consumers and what people out there want, what they need, how these products are relevant, and to actually be that gut-check for the clients," she explains.

It's a job that is definitely not boring as surprises are part of the game when trying to gauge the pulse of the consumer. That can be part of the fun or a source of angst explains Partalo.

"You make so many mistakes! Or not even mistakes, but it takes a long time to get to that 'Ah-ha!' moment, and sometimes they never come and that's the most frustrating thing, but you have to just keep expanding it and keep thinking about it differently...we have to go out and bring Cadillac something slightly more unique that gives them a different perspective."

To exemplify her point, Partalo explains that during their consumer research for Cadillac, the biggest surprise was that best feedback they received wasn't from questioning Cadillac drivers and drivers of competing vehicle manufacturers (they tried that, and it turned out the drivers appeared quite similar, actually). The best feedback was garnered from valets; a group of people who often get a true taste - good and bad - of the personalities of drivers of various vehicle makes.

Asked how a driver reacts when their vehicle gets damaged, valets reported a range of reactions from ego outbursts to giving the silent treatment, yet most interesting, Cadillac drivers were consistently reported to be the most understanding.

"We realized that a lot of [Cadillac drivers] were blue collar and moved up. So these are people who may have had jobs at valets when they were teenagers or in their early twenties and going through college...so there is a sense of pride that comes with driving a Cadillac, and that's what we discovered simply by talking to valets," Partalo says.

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It was the different perspective Partalo and team sought to provide Cadillac, and it played a part in helping Fallon guide Cadillac in reenergizing its brand and communications focus - a focus that was on display in the Cadillac "Green Hell" commercial that debuted during the Super Bowl.

"It was exciting, especially because the timing of it was perfect - we were at the two minute warning when everyone was watching the game," she said. "It felt good that there was a Fallon in there and that we had a spot. It was awesome."

Partalo has been in the ad business for most of her career, working at various agencies and with clients ranging from Porsche to Sprite. "I like the fact that this is a field that is so broad that it opens you up to a number of creative elements that you can do, so that's kind of cool," she says.

Whatever creative endeavor she decides to pursue in the future, she says her objective on her resume probably won't waver. "I think it's pretty accurate," she says with a smile of satisfaction. "I think I'm going to keep it on there as long as I believe in it."

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