Belly Laughs, Hold the Eggs

WE Communications Blog: CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin

— CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin 

Last week, the extraordinary Pam Edstrom passed away after a four-month fight with cancer. Pam was my co-pilot here at WE for more than 30 years: She truly was, as PR Week called her some years ago, “the doyenne of tech PR.” In good times and bad — and believe me, we had our share of both! — she was an amazing, inspiring partner. Most of all, she was my friend, and I miss her so much.

Pam loved a lot of things. In no particular order: spring, M&Ms, musicals, crab cakes, Beethoven, mayonnaise, trip reports (by others), yellow gummy bears/worms, shoes. And lemon drops, which in case you don’t know (?) are just vodka, lemon and sugar. I agreed with her on most things including this list, except mayonnaise. Oh, and I like RED gummy bears/worms. During meetings we would line up our candy — M&Ms, gummy bears, gummy worms — alongside our laptops. Preferring, of course, the bears because they looked like little soldiers you could later knock down and chomp. For the record there was plenty of candy left for the others, just not those two colors. That’s the way our partnership was, yellow candy/red candy, but always the same bowl. And tons of colors left for others.

Gummy bears on laptop

It’s a bit of wonder, really, that we ended up as business partners. When I started The Waggener Group Pam didn’t want to join our scrappy four-person agency. She had a cool job at Microsoft, and an even cooler house on Mercer Island in Seattle. The first time I asked her to join us, she said (politely), “No.” The second time I asked her to join us, she said (still politely), “No.” But the third time really was the charm: On March 5, 1984, Pam said, “Yes” (VERY expressively) to joining The Waggener Group — and the rest, as they say, is history. That is approximately 47,520 gummy candies each. (I can show my math work.)

Easter Egg Hunt

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it takes to be a great partner, and I keep looping back to the same idea: To be a great partner, you basically need to be Pam Edstrom. She was so smart and so curious, and she always asked exactly the right hard questions, exactly when they needed to be asked. She was an ace problem solver. She was a great mentor to everyone from her beloved interns to WE VPs. Her lessons are legend.

Here are just a few of Pam’s leave-behind lessons in my own words (we’ll get to HER words in a bit):

  • If you fall, get up. Then look keenly to find what tripped you. Avoid that pothole, although it’s fine to fall in others. LEARN.
  • When in very serious meetings, think of something really funny. What you say next will change the course of the meeting. LAUGH.
  • Invite people to gather. Forget titles, invite all. Do the cooking yourself, and always leave out the deviled eggs. LOVE.

Pam was a great partner, and she was also a great friend. We’ve walked thousands of miles together — and I mean that literally, not metaphorically. (Yes, I have this math, too.) We’ve worked in dozens of cities, and we might or might not have found the best lemon drops in each one. We celebrated countless events together, my wedding, her wedding, on and on. I remember on my daughter Mackenzie’s first birthday we sat in a Mexican restaurant for hours. Mackenzie didn’t sleep for a minute and was laughing with us the entire time. I’d say Mackenzie remembers this story, but nah, not at age 1. In happy times and not-so-happy ones, I could always count on Pam to make me laugh until I cried. I think I’ll miss that most of all.

Toast in Cairo and Mountain Summit

I’ll do my best to manage without her, but only because I know I won’t really have to: Pam is in WE’s name, and she’s in our DNA. Her way of looking at the world is our way of looking at the world, too.

And since we are in the words business, of course her famous “Pam-isms” are indelible. Spot on, just like a compass. In true Pam style, most of the “isms” are actually more like questions: Is this a place, or is it my place? Am I running from or running to? What’s the one answer that matters here? Is this really a dead end? Am I being a woman of grit right now? And Pam-iest of all: What’s the real problem we are trying to solve?

These are pretty great questions to ask in business; they’re also pretty great questions to ask in life. And every time I do, I’ll remember the remarkable woman who asked them so poignantly. I know Pam is as proud of what we’ve created as I am — she told me this often, most recently a few weeks before she passed away. She said, “There have been ups, downs and sideways, but I would not trade one day.” Me either, Pam, not one day.


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