VANCOUVER, WASHINGTON: Pam Edstrom, cofounder of WE Communications, passed away in her sleep after battling cancer for four months - she was 71 years old.
The majority of her career was spent at the agency to which she lent her name, working alongside CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin in a relationship that spanned more than three decades.
That prolific partnership resulted in one of the most prominent agencies in the world, a powerhouse with almost $100 million in annual revenue and hundreds of staffers.
Their relationship was strong but it wasn’t always a "match made in heaven," as Waggener Zorkin recalled.
When Waggener Zorkin asked Edstrom to be The Waggener Group’s fifth member, she was refused.
The second time Waggener Zorkin tried to recruit her, Edstrom was living in a little house on Mercer Island on the water, working a job she loved as director of PR at Microsoft, a one-story tech startup at the time. Before joining Microsoft, she’d served at Tektronix as PR manager.
Edstrom again said no. As one New York Times reporter put it in a 2008 PRWeek profile, "she’s a true believer" in Microsoft.
At the time, the complexity of the world of technology wasn’t talked about, Waggener Zorkin told PRWeek. That need to communicate on behalf of technology would over time become the foundation on which the firm now known as WE Communications was built.
"We both believed communications was based on explaining complex things and [putting] people in the equation," said Waggener Zorkin. "That sounds antiquated now because it’s the norm. But when we started in the mid-80s, it wasn’t. So that was [why I pursued her]: our mutual love and passion for what tech can do."
Waggener Zorkin said she pursued Edstrom aggressively because of their shared beliefs, her direct form of truth-telling, and the way she cared about people. Eventually, Edstrom agreed to join the firm in 1984 after Waggener Zorkin and her team scored a meeting with Bill Gates and then-president Jon Shirley and they demonstrated what they could do to help Microsoft.
Six years later, the firm was branded Waggener Edstrom Communications. Over the course of her career, Edstrom handled work for clients including Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), MasterCard, Dell, Boeing, Intimate Brands, and Microsoft, according to her biography.
Bill Hankes, former director of Bing PR, told PRWeek about working on Microsoft and "her effusive kindness."
"One time at a cocktail reception, she noticed none of us were partaking in the appetizer buffet, so she walked over and carried a massive cheese platter to our table and served us," said Hankes. "I was blown away that the founder of one of the most significant PR agencies on the West Coast was going to such lengths to make sure her guests felt welcome. Others know her far better than I, but I’ll never forget her kindness."
The Portland Business Journal named Edstrom "Woman Executive of the Year" for 2008. PRWeek recognized her as one of the "50 Most Powerful Women in PR" and one of the "100 Most Influential PR People of the 20th Century." She was a member of the board of directors at the Lagrant Foundation in 2010.