Pam Newsome Edstrom attended both the University of Minnesota and Portland State University, studying criminology, but when she left college she went to work at Tektronix Inc, doing technology PR. Later she became a pioneer in high-tech communications, working for Microsoft as their PR director. She died after losing her four-month fight with lung cancer on March 28th. She worked for nearly 30 years with Microsoft in their firm and later helped found WE Communications (previously Waggener Edstrom).
According to her founding partner Melissa Waggener Zorkin, “She leaves this indelible imprint on our people. So many of our people, she mentored. She cared so much about that. She would do both the big things and the small things — whatever it took to make people have confidence, to show them she believed in them, and they could do anything.”
One comment made about her by a business associate was that Edstrom believed in people so hard that they came to believe in themselves. Some of the people she trained at WE have moved on to take jobs with companies such as Expedia, T-Mobile, Lenovo, Apptio, and Starbucks.
What she did working with Microsoft over the years was enormous. She was in charge of the launch for Windows 95 and her work on that release is often included in communication and journalism courses in colleges across the country. Edstrom spoke about some of those experiences with Microsoft during a University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts commencement speech in 2016, reminding the students that there was a time when the company was a start-up and no one was interested in what they were doing or what they had to offer. Her approach was deciding how to show Microsoft as a small company that made a big difference. She was turned away by various media companies before finally setting meetings with BusinessWeek, Fortune, Time, and the Wall Street Journal.
Her next big tech PR project was at Las Vegas computer industry show known as Comdex, the largest such event at the time. They expected 200K people to show up for the event. Their aim was to make sure every person attending experienced and saw many connections to Microsoft Windows. They did keychains with the logo on rental cars, 10,000 hotel rooms had Windows! pillow cases, and lots of cocktail napkins at bars along the strip. All of her efforts paid off when six months after Comdex, the cover of Time magazine had Bill Gates’ face. It wasn’t more than a few days later that the New York Times technology editor called her.
After forming WE Communications, one of the largest independent PR firms in the country, she continued working with Microsoft, but she also added high-technology firms such as Micro Devices (AMD), Boeing, and Dell.
Waggener Zorkin mentioned her strength especially with technology PR, saying: “We had the amazing timing of being in technology when it wasn’t something marketed or talked about a lot. She helped to pioneer a new way to think about technology and how it impacts people’s lives.”
Over the coming days, there will be a celebration of her life planned by WE Communications as well as their plan to create an Edstrom scholarship fund.