Silicon Valley High Tech PR Maven Abigail Roeder Johnson Dead at 68
Abigail Roeder Johnson, for decades a fixture in Silicon Valley high tech, died September 7, 2023. She was 68.
For over thirty years, she was the president and guiding force behind the boutique PR and strategic communications firm Roeder-Johnson Corporation, which she founded with her husband in 1989. During the heady start-up years of the 1980s into the 2000s, she became a darling of the venture capital community and was much in demand to shape the critical messaging and communications strategies of their fledgling start-up companies prior to launch.
Reporting nearly exclusively to CEOs, Johnson became legendary for her penetrating and relentless questions that often helped the typically technology-focused executive teams gain a true understanding of their company's value added, and how to effectively communicate it to any conceivable audience.
Over her career, she and her team at Roeder-Johnson shaped the messaging, and handled the related tactical public relations - often for years - for over 130 high technology ventures, including more than 100 start-up company launches. And although she repeatedly pounded home her mantra of, "It's not about the ink; it's about the message", her clients enjoyed universal and in-depth coverage in the top business and financial press of the day, including numerous, coveted "cover stories".
Paul Dali, former managing partner at Dali Hook Ventures, president and CEO of Regis McKenna, and general manager of Apple's Personal Computer Division, said, upon hearing the news, "If you needed someone to really understand your company and help you position it successfully in the marketplace, Abigail was the most thoughtful, creative, and perceptive person for the challenge. She had an uncanny and unparalleled ability to persuasively articulate the unique selling proposition of a company, oftentimes better than the company could itself. She truly was one of a kind - simply the best."
Her reputation among the press and analysts was equally high. "When Abigail reached out with a story idea or an introduction, we'd listen," said Stephanie Mehta, formerly with The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Vanity Fair, and Fast Company. "She conducted herself with integrity and demanded the same of her lients, especially when they were dealing with the press. She had a passion for working with founders, and she took great care and joy in explaining their companies and their technologies - the more complex, the better."
In the late 2000s, responding to large-scale changes to the PR landscape due to the Internet explosion, Johnson gradually eliminated Roeder-Johnson's tactical public relations practice, and focused instead on her true love - mentoring start-ups and their CEOs that "Had a chance to change the world," as she put it. She was still going strong until weeks before her death.
Maria Colacurcio, CEO of the thriving workplace equity start-up Syndio, in Seattle WA, was Abigail's last client. "Start-ups are a work in progress, with no user manual," said Colacurcio. "Abigail took her formidable gifts and helped fill that void, challenging leaders like me, and our teams, to think through why we are changing the world, and then how to communicate it with one voice. What's more, she helped us believe it. After time with Abigail, you literally emerged as a better version of yourself, with clarity of thought, conviction, and most of all - hope."
Abigail Roeder Johnson was born Abigail Anne Roeder, in May 1955, in New York City, to future Arizona State Senator John D. Roeder, and the former Audrey Carol Stern. When she was eight, the family migrated from their Larchmont, NY home to Scottsdale, Arizona where she spent her adolescence. She graduated from Phoenix Country Day School in 1973, and subsequently attended Stanford University, where she earned the Bachelor of Arts in Political Science degree, in 1977.
Johnson started her career working as a real-estate secretary, but quickly escaped to a U.S. legislator's office in Los Angeles, where she was drafted into PR. As she later told it, that experience disabused her of any belief that politicians could "change the world", and she jumped to the small, technology-focused Michelson-Matsumoto Advertising and Public Relations, also in Los Angeles. There, she was tasked to do PR on their major accounts such as Toshiba and Teledyne, and in the process had the revelation that changed her life - that high technology was the world-changer she sought. Johnson then angled to get hired by the already legendary Bay Area technology PR firm, Regis-McKenna, Inc.
As she absorbed RMI's somewhat progressive ideas about PR, Johnson was assigned to counsel a succession of early entrepreneurs and start-ups - many of whom became wildly successful household names, and her reputation spread. By 1982, she was considered the go-to person at RMI for start-ups by several prominent venture capitalists. Johnson was eventually named co-director of Regis-McKenna's new Financial PR practice, focused on preparing companies for public offerings.
In January 1987, she moved to Tokyo, Japan and became the director of International Marketing for the investor relations consulting firm IBI, Inc., later bought by WPP/Ogilvy. Upon her return to the U.S. in mid-1989, she and her engineer husband - a former RMI client - founded Roeder-Johnson Corporation.
Abigail Johnson is survived by her husband, Steve Johnson, and a sister, Penelope Roeder, of Playa del Ray, CA. Her death was due to pancreatic cancer, which did not affect her vitality or lifestyle, until her last few weeks. A Celebration of Life is planned for Spring 2024.
Those wishing to remember her with a gift are asked to donate to the American Cancer Society.
Editors, NOTE: Photos accompanying the release can be downloaded from https://bit.ly/3PmK6hT