From Crewe to Winnersh, via Watford and Slough, doesn’t sound like
a blueprint for a successful career in international PR, but that’s the
trip made by 3Com’s Sandra Van Vreedendaal. The 31-year old came to the
UK from Holland for a year in 1986 and has been climbing the technology
PR ladder here ever since.
’I’d dreamed of being a creative in an advertising agency, but I was
looking during the recession, when those jobs were really hard to
My first job with IT analysts the Yankee Group was a gamble, I knew
nothing about technology, but thought it would be a good bet,’ she
None of her career moves - from industry analyst at Yankee Group through
consultant at Brodeur A Plus to in-house PR manager at Cisco - was
Instead, Van Vreedendaal has found her niche by chance. A planned year
doing communication studies in Crewe stretched to three and was followed
by a diploma in advertising and marketing in Watford.
Technology PR was a good bet for her - she’s just been promoted to head
of international PR at data networking giant 3Com, having spent the last
18 months as its head of PR for Europe. Van Vreedendaal’s brief is to
increase the company’s profile from the boardroom right down to the
living room. It’s a prospect she relishes. ’Technology has been getting
more sexy since I started working in it. Now even my grandmother has
bought a computer,’ she says.
As head of PR for Europe, based at Winnersh, near Reading, she is
credited with developing a pan-continental PR programme. She hopes to
now blaze the same trail internationally. 3Com’s desire to spread the
word across its entire customer base will be well met by Van
Vreedendaal, who appears expert at dealing with people from all levels.
She is smart but relaxed, efficient yet charming, organised and open.
’Holland is a small nation, we have a history of co-operation with
others,’ she jokes.
Her ’international’ role means she will be heading up PR everywhere
except the US. She enthuses about the prospect of dealing with different
cultures, including Latin America and the Pacific Rim countries, and
says she enjoys learning what works communication-wise for different
nationalities. The Finns, she notes for example, use fewer words than
the Italians, and pause for thought a lot.
’She is very sensitive to the way people in different cultures work, and
understands what it takes to push the right buttons in different
countries, moving people on different levels at different paces,’ says
Greg Levendusky, executive vice-president of global accounts at 3Com’s
PR agency the Weber Group.
Following a tough year financially in 1998, one of 3Com’s aims is to
rebuild the company’s image. Van Vreedendaal is hoping to use existing
customers as promoters of the 3Com systems, and is looking to target the
consumer press with her messages - a move away from the company’s former
focus on news-driven, reactive PR.
As a manager, she claims to be able to talk about both corporate policy
and boyfriends, reiterating her egalitarian approach to life. ’She is
very fair,’ says Levendusky, ’Everyone bends over backwards to get
things done for her.’ She once had to ask a London cabbie to drive from
Heathrow to Richmond and back in 40 minutes to collect some vital
forgotten tickets for a PR jaunt, and he did. Not many people could
achieve such a feat of diplomatic persuasion.
’We are still friends,’ says Audrey Mandela, who, as senior
vice-president at Yankee Group, gave Van Vreedendaal her first job. ’She
is fun, energetic and creative. She is the type of person who will look
for a better way to do things, and find it. She is capable of both
having the great idea and following it through.’
The amount of travel she does means she crams her social life and her
cello practice into two weeks of the month, but she keeps up with
Geordie husband Steven via e-mail. ’It keeps our relationship fresh at
least, it means that when we are together it is a really special time,’
But the travel bug has bitten her, and despite her husband and the new
house they’re renovating, she says she gets itchy feet if she’s on the
ground for too long.
She claims to be a perfectionist and admits to finding it hard to
delegate, but the up-side to the resultant long hours is the drive home
She confesses to being a bit of a speed freak, and must be one of the
few people that finds commuting relaxing. ’That’s the advantage of
Winnersh,’ she says, ’I commute the opposite way to most people, so I
can just get in the car and put my foot down. By the time I’m home I’ve
1990: Industry analyst, Yankee Group
1994: Consultant, Brodeur A Plus
1996: PR manager, Cisco
1999: International PR head, 3Com.