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When Pat Rosner was 17 years old, she drove the two hours west on I-70 to Columbia, Missouri with a few girlfriends. Someone’s brother was at Mizzou and they had convinced their parents to let them visit for a football game.

They party hopped through campus and eventually ended up in Greek row. It was the height of the nervous energy every Friday evening at a midwestern university builds towards. They were en route to a party when they saw a car screech to a halt in front of a frat house. The driver bounded out, leaving his car idling and unattended. 

Without thinking, Pat jumped into the driver’s seat and took off. She had just stolen a car.

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The Car Thief, Pat Rosner

Her career as a criminal lasted just a few blocks. Listening to her nervous cohort and her better angels, Pat parked the stolen vehicle a few streets over. They returned to the scene of the crime where the missing car had amplified the typical party chaos into absolute pandemonium.

They found the driver in a frenzied panic. It turned out he had borrowed the car and now that it was stolen, he was freaking out. For Pat, stealing the car had been impulse, pure adrenaline, but seeing the distress it caused reconnected her actions with a guilty conscience. She anonymously spread word through the party that the car he was looking for was a few blocks away. 

When Pat told me this story, I was slack jawed. It runs so counter to my impression of who she is, I was unable to reconcile the two Pats. The Pat I know is revered as an oracle or sage. Her opinion and insights carry tremendous weight at Paradowski. Her integrity is unimpeachable. The Pat of the story I just heard is wholly different. Pat the teenage car thief. Pat the fearless and reckless hellraiser. The more we talked, the more I began to understand that Pat’s story is about negotiating the balance between those two personas. 

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The notion of balance was a throughline during our entire conversation. Looking back on my notes, it comes up often and in multiple contexts. Most directly, it applies to her current role as Director of Insights and Planning. She manages her approach to media using a sliding scale of instinct and information.

“Twenty years ago, it was 60/40—gut versus data, but now it’s closer to 30/70,” Pat explains. She’s quick to clarify that more data does not translate to better data. Too much information can be paralyzing or, even worse, blind you to useful consumer insights. A spreadsheet can’t tell you how fast an audience builds trust and it doesn’t qualitatively assess the depth of that trust. In a media landscape that is increasingly digital and constantly outpacing attempts to understand it, Pat’s 30% instinct is invaluable.

The shift towards data-based insights isn’t the only thing that has changed during Pat’s career. “For one thing, there used to be a lot more drinking during lunch,” she notes wistfully.

“For one thing, there used to be a lot more drinking during lunch”

At other agencies, Pat’s role might be more strictly defined, but at Paradowski, she’s our information nexus, our human rolodex, our security vault. With her wealth of experience and breadth of relationships, she’s tapped for input that would often be considered outside conventional media planning. She regards her role with a healthy and reductive modesty. “I’m like a hairdresser,” she says, “I hear the most interesting things from people.”

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Studying journalism at Mizzou, she never had a clear vision for her future. Instead, she looked at what she was interested in, what she was good at, and the skills she wanted to develop. She cross-checked these attributes against what’s required in different professional fields and came up with media. This process of choosing a career is not unlike what her future jobs would entail—extracting insights from an unemotional inventory of available data to build a plan with the best chance for success.

Her first job in media was at a small Texas agency where she did everything from answering the phones to packaging and shipping media assets. It was a pre-Excel era and her flowcharts were built by hand with typewriter correction tape on big pieces of gridded paper.

It was around this time that Pat started playing golf. It was a great way to network and build relationships, and not only did she enjoy herself, she quickly became a decent golfer. If the Texas good ol’ boys were uncomfortable with a woman on their links, Pat either didn’t notice or didn’t care. The lack of gender diversity only worked in her favor. When she was invited to play in tournaments hosted by magazines or television stations, there were so few female participants, Pat often handily won the competition for women’s longest drive. 

If the Texas good ol’ boys were uncomfortable with a woman on their links, Pat either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

After working in Texas nearly her entire professional life, Pat decided to move back to St. Louis. In doing so, she learned a tough lesson about the balance between business relationships and actual friendships. She spent 15 years living and working within the Dallas media community, making connections she thought transcended business. When she broke the news of her move to a sales rep who she considered a close friend, his first response hurt her feelings: “Who’s your replacement?”

It was a jarring but important epiphany. When any relationship is tied to livelihood, it rarely evolves beyond that. In business, genuine friendship is a rare occurrence, which makes it all the more special when it does happen. 

She revels in the simple but exquisite pleasure of slamming a few beers after mowing the lawn and her latest challenge has been baking bread, which she unhappily discovered was more difficult that it looks. 

Though she describes herself as an extrovert, the rehabilitated car thief and Paradowski’s venerated media soothsayer finds solace alone in the outdoors. As much as she likes the peace of hiking the state parks and foothills of the river valley, there’s a depth within her that is satisfied by its unpredictable wildness. She is spurred on by a bend in the road you cannot see beyond. 

Like the teenager who hopped in a car that wasn’t hers with no plan for what would follow, Pat Rosner still cannot resist the unknown.