Aimee Clark of Dotted Line Communications: Why, More Than Ever, We All Need To Spread The Message of Love and Self-love

I would like to spread the message of love and self-love. There is a lot of negativity and hate in the world and we all could use one collective hug. Be easy on yourself and learn to love and accept yourself so that you can radiate it out to others and share it.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aimee Clark.

Aimee Clark is the Cofounder of Dotted Line Communications, a boutique PR firm putting experts front and center with clients, in both devising the right strategies and banging on the right doors to get attention. Today’s fragmented media landscape means not just relying on perfectly timed and coordinated PR launches to propel clients forward. It’s still about the strength of the pitch + the hard sell, but now with a lot more moving parts to consider. From conception to strategy to execution, Aimee works seamlessly with clients to not only meet but exceed goals.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Sure thing! I have a degree in Athletic Training and set out to work for a professional or collegiate sports team. My first job out of college was at Boston College where I worked with several different sports teams. Within the first 6 months on the job I had a student athlete go unconscious on me during a game and, while I got through the situation, I found it to be so stressful and unsettling that it made me question if it was the career path for me. I found myself either waiting around for an injury to happen, bored, or in a situation where something terrible could be happening to another human being. During that summer off I interned at a PR firm focused on tech companies — at the start of the tech bubble. I loved it and changed career paths after that experience.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I met my business partner, Darcy Cobb, at another agency in San Francisco that launched startups in the height of the .com boom in the late 90s when we were both in our 20s.

I was terrified to go off on my own, but also the thought and planning exhilarated me. Darcy still teases me about this but, just in case, as a backup, I waitressed at a restaurant at night as I didn’t have savings to fall back on. Turns out I didn’t really need to do that — we hit the ground running and just reached our 20 year anniversary this September. Starting Dotted Line continues to be one of my most cherished accomplishments.

Darcy and I have very complimentary skill sets that have served us well over the years. People might say we were unlikely partners. We are Yin and Yang, but that is why it works. We both provide a different type of mentorship to our employees and strategy to our clients. Our mission and vision was to have senior level guidance and execution across all accounts teams, and it is one that still holds true today.

Dotted Line has also been a virtual agency from the very beginning outside of about a year when we did have a physical office. This was a decision we made to streamline overhead costs and also because we wanted to hire talent regardless of location. Being a remote team has served us well over the years. It has enabled us to have employees on both coasts to better support clients, find talent regardless of location and allow employees to move it they needed without leaving their job. Looking back, we always knew we were on to something with the virtual model, but now with COVID-19, Corporate America is also understanding the virtues of it.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Over the years we have met with so many startup CEOs and reporters and often you may have some kind of preconceived notion of them. Probably 15 years ago, we set up a meeting for one of our male client CEOs to meet a highly influential tech journalist and the meeting ended up happening at the journalist’s house. We worked very hard to set up this meeting and we are very diligent with prep materials, attire, directions, etc. Well the one thing we were not prepared for was for the journalist to show up for the meeting in his boxer shorts:)

This was a lesson in learning you must be prepared for the unexpected and be ready to think on your feet and change directions quickly if you need to.

I laugh thinking about this now in the time of COVID-19 and Zoom since Zooming pantsless has totally become a thing!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It is not one person that has impacted me — it is a trifecta! My business partners Darcy Cobb, Denise Welch and Jenny Davis. I can’t imagine doing this job with any other women. They inspire me, support me and push me to continue to grow and master new skills. Darcy has been by my side for 20 years, Denise 16, and Jenny 14. They have certainly made the journey worthwhile. Darcy and I started Dotted Line when we were both in our 20s. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We would drive down to the Valley for new business meetings with startup founders and we would do our best to look “older” than we were. We joke now, 20 years later, that it is quite the opposite, as we continuously wonder if the new zoom filters make us look younger. Thankfully, clients these days want tenure and experience when it comes to PR.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

That is easy and it is one word for me, actually two — exercise and coffee! If I get a good sweat in and my Laughing Man coffee (my Aussie husband has taught me a thing or two about good coffee), in the morning then the day is going to be okay. Preparation is also key. Be ready, prep yourself for potentially tough questions, think of all the various scenarios and plan for them.

I traveled to Seattle for a meeting a few years back and had worked out before the meeting. When we sat down the first thing the CEO asked me was, “are you training for something?” to which I replied, ‘life…and this meeting!”

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

We can learn from one another based on how we were raised, where we grew up, cultural and religious beliefs. Over the 20 years at Dotted Line I have had the chance to work with a number of executives and diverse teams across many different clients. I have always felt strongly that diversity is so important to help us view challenges through different lenses and therefore bring about an array of ideas to solve them. The Black Lives Matter movement has certainly made us at DLC take a hard look at what we are doing to address the lack of diversity and opportunity for many people in the workplace and beyond. It’s not enough to say “I don’t even know what someone’s race is when I look at their resume,” or “we get mostly resumes from X or Y, so if we don’t have a diverse workplace it’s not because of choices WE made.” We have to look at what we are doing to mentor young people and actively bring more minorities into the hiring cycle and our industry. This is definitely a major priority for us right now.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Having a work environment where coworkers and staff are encouraged to get to know each other personally is very important. We like to work to set up outings and retreats for our employees to get to know each other outside of work. Because we are a remote team by design, it is important for us to find time to meet in-person and get to know each other personally so we can create a stronger team.

We also set up fun slack channels to enable “water cooler” discussion like ones around different TV shows, quirky news headlines, and the kids and pets of Dotted Line.

We also recently brought on an executive coach that meets with some members of our team individually once a week. This has been a wonderful additional resource for our team, especially during COVID-19 when everyone was feeling particularly stressed personally and professionally. Having additional resources in place to help our employees speak freely and work through potential obstacles or goals has been an experience our team has enjoyed.

We have been talking as an executive team on how to offer mentoring programs and continue to cultivate pro bono work we can offer. The events of 2020 have certainly made us take heed of how we operate as an organization and ways that we can grow and contribute to society.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

It comes down to responsibility. Executives are going to take the blow for anything that goes wrong within an organization, as well as reap the benefits of what is going well. Being an executive means not passing the buck and taking on everything that comes with it.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

I think one is that the CEO makes or breaks a company. While leadership is absolutely paramount, I do think this is a myth. A great company is made up of the sum of its parts and the best CEO’s I’ve worked with understand what they don’t know and build a team around them that can fill those gaps.

Another myth I believe is that a CEO needs to be an extrovert. I have worked with many CEOs over my career and have seen introverted CEOs lead very successfully.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

This is an interesting question because the PR field is widely known as very female-dominant. I think this is true for a couple of reasons. First, women are very efficient multitaskers and PR is all about juggling multiple clients and efforts at any given time. I think women tend to be very good listeners which helps with understanding a story and how to develop and shape key messages and build communications programs.

I do think, however, that female PR executives often have to fight certain stigmas, e.g, the party girl; a lackey that isn’t strategic; a go fetch girl; or the fix it girl at all costs, even if it is impossible.

I had an awkward situation once where a male client tried to hold my hand to walk down 6th Avenue in New York. I have been completely ignored by men in meetings and asked to get coffee, and I have been cursed at on a call on a Saturday morning with my son in the car. There have been a few new business meetings with founders that were so obnoxious and rude that it became clear within the first 10 minutes that we would not be treated as a respected partner. We always say “if this is the way someone behaves in the courting period, I can’t imagine what it would be to work with them ongoing” — needless to say we decline to work with those companies.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Starting out I probably thought my job would be a bit more glamorous than it actually is. You see lots of PR professionals in film and TV attending tons of events and dressed up all the time. That is not the reality. It is a lot of research, writing, and staring at a computer screen, and for me mostly not showered in sweaty gym clothes.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

Empathy. I think empathy goes such a long way when leading a team and an organization. Listen to your staff — give them a voice. Your staff is what makes your company successful and they are the heart. Value them and do little things that make them feel appreciated. Kindness goes a long way and when you are good to your employees, they pay it back in spades. In today’s business environment it is very much about being a team player. Someone who does not have that mentality may struggle.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

My advice is to remember it is all a journey and you do not always have to have a linear approach. I have experienced a number of unexpected twists and turns that were not planned and I was very quick to resist. It is all in how you handle them and decide to view them. There are many different ways to achieve goals and find success and it is ok to hit a dead end sometimes. Try to learn from it and continue to grow and evolve. And most of all, slow down and take the time to enjoy the ride.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I would like to think that a number of clients we launched and helped grow have had an impact on making the world a better place. We have worked with organizations like the United Way of LA, HowGood, Crowd Cow and others that certainly provide products and services that contribute to a better world.

I have worked to be a positive influence for my coworkers and teams by always being a team player and showing them that we are all in it together. Lastly, I hope my children, especially my daughters, will see that it is possible to be a mother and have a career.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1) Surround yourself with good people. It is the most important factor of your daily work life. Enjoy the folks you work with, trust them. You do not have to sacrifice yourself to work with people that are mean, nasty or not on the up and up. On a day to day basis I know my team has my back on anything and everything, good or bad. That gives me the confidence to do my job and give recommendations that are not always easy because I know my team is not going to leave me blowing in the wind.

2) Don’t take on every client. I have been running Dotted Line Communications for 20 years and that is a founding principle for us. We will not take on a client we do not believe in or that has a product or service we do not think we can sell. We would never want to promise something we don’t think we could deliver as that is what gives PR a bad rep and we value how we are treated far more than a paycheck.

3) Teamwork makes the dream work! This is an expression and a motto at Dotted Line coined by my amazing coworker, Erin Fisher. Be a team player. It is everything and then some. Everything we do at Dotted Line is such a collective effort. One person may have written the press release, another built the press list and yet another secured the media opportunity. Pulling those oars in unison is a thing of beauty.

4) Relationships! Relationships! Relationships! Much like real estate is all about location, this is a business of relationships. From press contacts to former clients, new clients, agency partners, and new and former employees. We actually get a fair amount of our business from referrals. People will work with us at one company and move jobs and think about hiring us at their new gig. The same goes for members of the press — a reporter at a small local outlet can end up at a large influential national outlet or a trade that’s highly relevant to one of your clients. Cultivate your relationships and preserve them.

5) Go to the mat! Stand up for what you believe in and voice why you believe it. It is SO hard to go against the grain, especially with a client, but if you do not, you are just jeopardizing your own integrity. Oftentimes clients think their news is bigger than it is and you have to speak up and give them a reality check on how newsworthy you really believe it is. This happens very regularly at Dotted Line and it is a really hard skill and lesson. If we do not speak up we run the risk of mis-setting expectations for the client which is exactly the situation we want to avoid.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would like to spread the message of love and self-love. There is a lot of negativity and hate in the world and we all could use one collective hug. Be easy on yourself and learn to love and accept yourself so that you can radiate it out to others and share it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love what Peloton instructor, Christine D’Ercole, says which is “I am, I can, I will, I do.”

I also am a big fan of the meme, “Toss your hair in a bun, drink some coffee, throw on some gangsta rap and handle it.” Sometimes that is just want needs to be done:)

I tend to be drawn to positive affirmations or quotes that focus on letting go, forgiveness and not being fearful of change or trying new things. They speak to me on a lot of different levels.

As I mentioned, my partner and I started Dotted Line when we were in our 20s. That was a really scary thing to do. I didn’t know how it could affect my career if we were to fail or if we had enough experience to make it work, but I believed in our mission and our skills and we went for it with positivity and tenacity — and it has been one of the best decisions of my life. Dotted Line has brought me so much satisfaction, joy, memories and lasting relationships.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

My person is Jennifer Garner! I have been a fangirl for many years — since she was on Felicity and Alias. I have joked with my friends that I want her to be my sister. She has figured out how to manage being a working mom with a great career and an unbelievably relatable personality. I went through a divorce at the same time as her and I greatly admired how she conducted herself through a difficult personal time. She has chosen many causes to give back to, shares so much positivity and she just does it in such a fun and authentic way. She is a fantastic role model and her Instagram is perfection.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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