Melissa Waggener Zorkin
Global CEO & Founder
When Melissa Waggener Zorkin founded WE in 1983, she wanted to tell the technology stories that weren’t being told, and share the incredible ways human lives are transformed by innovation. She knew instinctively tech would play a transformational role on the world stage, changing the way we live and communicate, and she was right.
Over the decades, Melissa has partnered with the world’s most groundbreaking brands, telling their stories and navigating transformation by keeping purpose, the “why” behind innovation, as her north star. Melissa’s own bold sense of purpose is how she led WE through good times and bad, maintaining the agency’s spirit of independence and willingness to put people first, even when times were hard. The approach worked: Melissa and her co-pilot Pam Edstrom grew the company from four tech communications pioneers working out of a free office in Portland, Oregon, into one of the largest global independent communications agencies in the world.
From launching the first version of Microsoft Windows to working with world-class brands like Volvo, McDonalds, Cisco and VSP, Melissa is uniquely qualified to lead clients through transformation with a simple formula: Keep people and purpose at the center of all decisions. Under Melissa’s direction as CEO, WE Communications pursues its purpose: to use the gift of communication to move people to positive action — for clients and for the world.
Melissa is an advocate and voice for women in business, and has dedicated her career to lifting up women and girls. Since 2006, Melissa’s work as a Mercy Corps board member has helped women entrepreneurs start their own businesses. She has been recognized for her contributions, particularly in Africa, including her championing of the Mercy Corps’ global ACTing for Impact and many other initiatives from Ethiopia to Ghana and Uganda. Melissa also sits on the board of ColorComm, an organization dedicated to connecting and empowering women of color in the communications industry.
Mentoring young people in communications is one of Melissa’s top priorities. As a member of the Board of Advisors to the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Public Relations, Melissa works with leaders of the world’s top brands to help connect students and academics with the PR industry. Melissa also honored the legacy of her business partner Pam Edstrom by establishing the Pam Edstrom Scholarship and Endowment Fund to support undergraduate communications students in the Pacific Northwest, where WE first opened its doors. The impact of her work, and her ability to mentor countless individuals to harness the power of their voices, earned her place in the PRWeek Hall of Femme in 2017.
As CEO of WE, she drives the agency’s commitment to creating an inclusive workplace where differing ideas, perspectives, experiences, lifestyles, and cultures are embraced and respected. In 2019, WE received a score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI), which measures U.S. corporate policies and practices that impact LGBTQ employees.
Melissa has spoken about purpose-driven leadership at Cannes Lions, ColorComm, SHEQUALITY and the Indie Summit. She’s a regular contributor to WE’s blog, where she shares her perspective on current events, civility, leadership, ethics and innovation.
For balance, Melissa relies on her centering sense of humor and her circle of family and friends. Books — all of them — are her oxygen. If she’s not working, you can bet she’s outside, trekking through mountains to see the gorillas in Rwanda or cruising the city streets on her Vespa, living each day with passion and wonder.