China's Women to Watch

Coke's Marina Palma Feels Right at Home in Fast-Paced China

Native Argentine Has Spearheaded Enormous Projects Such as This Summer's Olympic Effort in Just Months

By Published on .

There's a joke Marina Palma remembers from her childhood in Buenos Aires: If every person in China jumped at the same time, the jolt would send Argentina flying off the edge of the planet.

That idea -- the power of a united China -- helped inspire Coca-Cola's Olympics campaign this summer. Spearheaded by Ms. Palma, the integrated effort urges Chinese consumers to contribute "beats" to help motivate the country's athletes in London. The response was enthusiastic -- more than 195 million beats were submitted and compiled into a "people's anthem."

Marina Palma
Marina Palma

"Marina has brought a new level of strategic thinking to our sparkling brands in China in terms of the bigness of the consumer connection," said Robert Foye, Coca-Cola's chief marketing, customer and commercial officer in Greater China. "This year's big, integrated Olympics campaign for brand Coca-Cola is indicative of that ."

Ms. Palma's 21-year career at Coca-Cola has included stints in Latin America and Europe. Since arriving in Shanghai a year ago, she's been struck by the speed at which things happen in China. The Olympic campaign, which involves multiple agencies and everything from a traveling roadshow to an Angry Birds game, was developed in four months.

"The opportunity is lost if you don't go for it quickly. That is very much part of the cultural backdrop," Ms. Palma said. "It's a very competitive market, a very dynamic market. You just don't have the luxury of long debates, and unnecessary rounds of thinking and polishing."

Though Buenos Aires is literally on the other side of the planet, Ms. Palma finds her heritage can be an advantage for working in China.

"Argentina's been through so many changes and crises that one of the things I grew up with is the notion that the only thing you can count on is change," she said.

If her high-flying global resume is any indication, Ms. Palma will eventually move on to a post with an even higher profile. But one thing is sure. "The challenge after China is that I'm unlikely to find something as exciting," she said with a laugh.

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