Melissa Waggener Zorkin
When Melissa Waggener Zorkin founded WE, 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, McDonald's, 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 inside and outside the agency. She currently sits on the board of ColorComm, an organization dedicated to connecting and empowering women of color in the communications industry, and is a mentor with ColorComm's Mentorship Program. For more than 15 years, Melissa was a member of the board of directors for Mercy Corps. Through that work and her own passion projects, she’s helped women entrepreneurs start their own businesses, and championed numerous positive social impact initiatives that served communities throughout Africa.
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, and her induction to the ICCO PR Hall of Fame in 2020.
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 2021, for the fourth year in a row, 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. WE was also named one of PRWeek's Best Places to Work in 2020 and 2021.
Melissa has spoken about purpose-driven leadership at Cannes Lions, Mumbrella360, ColorComm, SHEQUALITY, Global ICCO PR Summit 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.
Speakerships & Interviews
Celebrating National Mentoring Month With Insights from Past Mentors,Panelist, ColorComm Jan. 20, 2022
What Do Customers Want From Brands in Uncertain Times?, Interviewee, PRWeek, Sept. 22, 2021
Bellwether Survey: Comms In Command, Interviewee, PRWeek, Sept. 9, 2021
CEO Round Table: Cannes Condensed, Speaker, PRovoke Media, June 24, 2021
WE Global CEO Joins Luminaries Salon Series, Interviewee, Communication Leadership University of Washington, Apr. 9, 2021
Make Business Better, Interviewee, Quartz, Feb. 12, 2021
The Power of Communication in Uncertain Times, Speaker, USC Annenberg, Feb. 2, 2021
The New CEO Is All About 360 Degrees of Respect, Speaker, Mumbrella 360: Reconnect, Dec. 8, 2020
The New Leadership Principle: Inside Is The New Outside, Speaker, ICCP PR Global Summit, Nov. 4, 2020
Building a Global Agency is an Epic, not an Episode, Interviewee, PR Council Agency-Ready Certificate Program, July 23, 2020
Allyship Panel: How to Become Effective?, Panelist, ColorCommCon, June 29, 2020
Keeping Communications Fresh, Interviewee, ColorComm Office Hours, May 1, 2020
Fireside Chat: Leading With Purpose In An Age Defined By It, Panelist, PRWeek's PRDecoded, Oct. 17, 2019
The New Brand Loyalty For The Purpose Age, Speaker, ICCO Global Summit in Holmes Report, Oct. 14, 2019
Respect 360°: Meet the New CEO, Speaker, PRAXIS in Reputation Today, Oct. 10, 2019
Diversity, Technology & Fake News, Interviewee, Euronews, June 28, 2019
Why purpose matters and not just for marketers, Interviewee, CNBC, June 19, 2019
SHEQUALITY: Total Transparency for Leadership, Interviewee, PR Council, August 2018
PR Industry Leaders Join CEOs Call for Gun Control, PRovoke, June 1, 2022
Are We Using Our Inside Voices?, USC Annenberg, Nov. 30, 2020
How A Resilient Purpose Can Help Your Business Thrive, Quartz, July 13, 2020
PRWeek US Power List 2020, PRWeek, July 7, 2020
Making Us Better, PRovoke Media, May 11, 2020
Together, We Rise, Thrive Global, Mar. 6, 2020
Brands can close the Thunberg/Trump Divide, PRWeek, Jan. 23, 2020
Purpose is the new bottom line, Quartz, Dec. 18, 2019
Microsoft's 'three-part test' for getting involved, PRWeek, Oct. 17, 2019
A New Brand Loyalty For the Purpose Age, PRovoke Media, Oct. 14, 2019
Global study: Women in PR want action to improve gender diversity, PRWeek, Oct. 14, 2019
Respect 360°: Meet the New CEO, Reputation Today, Oct. 10, 2019
GWPR Calls For Action On Gender Inequality, GWPR, Oct. 10, 2019
WE study: Consumers are Ready to Keep Brands in Check, PRWeek, Sept. 17, 2019
PRWeek US Power List 2019, PRWeek, July 1, 2019
Most Influential Business Leaders in PR, Industry Leaders Magazine, July 2019
Why I'm Eager to Make Toast in 2023, Feb. 21, 2023
What's Your Version of a Patagonia Moment?, Oct. 20, 2022
Protecting Equal Healthcare Access for All, May 9, 2022
To Create Change for Women, Unleash Your Bravery, Mar. 7, 2022
Full Visibility: The Importance of Truly Seeing Others, July 8, 2021
IWD 2021: This Year, Women Unleash Their Superpowers, Mar. 4, 2021
Inside Is The New Outside, Jan. 26, 2021
The Power of People's Voices in Action, Oct. 30, 2020
The Urgency of Climate Change, Sept. 29, 2020
An Earth Day Call to Action, April 2020
Can Brands Be the Change we Crave?, September 2019
Cannes Lions 2019 Through Fresh Eyes, June 2019
AI and the Future of PR, March 2019