Trailblazing through Tech PR: Aimee Clark’s Journey with Dotted Line Communication

  • Published on:
    March 4, 2024
  • Reading time by:
    3 minutes

Embark on a journey with Aimee Clark, the visionary co-founder of Dotted Line Communications, as she shares insights into her dynamic entrepreneurial voyage spanning over 23 years. From fortuitously crossing paths with her co-founder, Darcy Cobb, during the pinnacle of the dot-com boom in San Francisco to boldly venturing into the uncharted territory of entrepreneurship, Aimee’s narrative is a testament to grit, passion, and the audacity to dream.

Through candid reflections, Aimee unveils the triumphs and tribulations encountered while steering Dotted Line through the ever-evolving landscape of technology PR. From the exhilaration of securing the agency’s footing in its nascent years to navigating unforeseen challenges with resilience and tenacity, Aimee’s journey is a blueprint for aspiring entrepreneurs, offering invaluable lessons in perseverance and adaptability.

Amidst the backdrop of a male-dominated industry, Aimee shares her experiences as a female entrepreneur, challenging stereotypes and championing inclusivity while balancing the demands of running a successful PR firm with a fulfilling personal life. As she looks toward the horizon, Aimee’s vision for Dotted Line encompasses continued growth, deepening client partnerships, and fostering a vibrant, inclusive work culture—a testament to her unwavering commitment to excellence and innovation.

Can you tell us about your journey of starting Dotted Line Communications and how it has evolved over the past 23 years?

I met my co-founder Darcy Cobb, at a PR 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 the idea of owning a business 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 are now entering our 24th year.  Starting Dotted Line continues to be one of my most cherished accomplishments.

What inspired you to establish your own technology PR firm at such a young age?

We really loved meeting entrepreneurs and learning about new technologies and listening to founders tell their ideas and stories. It was the height of the .com heyday in San Francisco, so it was a really exciting time to be in tech PR. We wanted to have the opportunity to pick the clients we worked with and call the shots on the team we pulled together. The vision and dream of running an agency and building something from scratch were the inspiration and driver for me. 

What were some of the challenges you faced as a young entrepreneur, and how did you overcome them?

There certainly have been a number of challenges along the way! There have been times where we have unexpectedly lost a number of clients for a plethora of reasons, lost a valuable employee or have hit roadblocks with a down economy. It is important to learn from your mistakes, try not to replicate them, make tough decisions when they need to be made and try not to lose faith in those down moments. Surround yourself with people who stay the course and that you work well with to conquer those challenging moments. 

How has your perspective and approach to business changed since you first started the agency?

I have more experience and confidence now than when I first started. I am less timid to share thoughts and feedback, have a much better sense of what ingredients are needed for a strong client/agency relationship and a keen sense of what type of individual fits into the Dotted Line culture. 

As a female-owned business, what unique opportunities and challenges have you encountered in the industry?

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.

How do you maintain a work-life balance while running a successful PR firm?

Exercise, family and friends and travel all keep me balanced. Getting a sweat in before the work day starts helps me handle all the things thrown at me that day.  A network of amazing friends and family keeps me grounded and supported. Traveling is my reward for putting in long days and making it all worth it. I do not live to work – I work to live. I also do not believe in putting in hours for hours sake. I believe in putting in quality work and if that happens sometimes at night because you feel like you can get some writing done or first thing in the morning when all is quiet still and no one is awake, then take the time then. Work does not have to be so linear anymore. 

What are some of the key lessons you’ve learned throughout your entrepreneurial journey?

Trust your gut. It’s always right. Mistakes are an opportunity to grow. Learn from them, get smarter, grow and move on. Chances are you will not repeat the same mistake again. Mistakes are just a collection of knowledge you can pull from to become a better future you. 

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs, particularly young women looking to start their own businesses?

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 and 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 does Dotted Line Communications differentiate itself from other technology PR firms in the market?

Dotted Line got its start during the height of the .com boom, when there was a fever pitch of interest on tech companies and startups. It was extremely important to create and develop storylines that could cut through the noise to help startups achieve success. We still use those principles today. Another differentiator for DLC is our belief in transparency with our clients. We are quick to share media feedback and can pivot when necessary. We also leave no stone unturned when working on selling a story. 

Can you highlight some of the notable clients or projects that Dotted Line Communications has worked on?

Dotted Line has worked with a number of high growth brands over the years. Match (the OG of online dating) has been a great client partnership with fantastic results. We handled Dictionary’s Word of the Year campaign for many years which was a really fun one for the team. We’ve also had the pleasure of working with disruptive brands like Calendly with an incredible founder story.

What are the key strategies or tactics that have contributed to the success of your agency?

We hire quality talent! The key to a successful agency is strong people and we have done a great job cultivating and training incredibly well-rounded PR executives. We also work really hard to pick clients that are a fit for PR. Not every company out there is going to be a great fit for PR (or DLC) and we work really hard to find clients that understand and believe in PR. We work to build deep partnerships with these clients to achieve success.

How do you stay up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in the technology and PR industries?

Reading. From LinkedIn communities, to business and tech media as well as the right mix of PR outlets – there’s a wealth of knowledge out there if you take the time to consume it. I also try to meet with as many other PR leaders as possible to see what experiences they are having and now that events are back, I have been trying to go to networking events as well to continue to learn and meet new people 

How do you foster a positive and productive work culture within your organization?

Having a work environment where coworkers and staff are encouraged to get to know each other personally is very important. We’ve done 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.

What role does technology play in your PR strategies, and how has it evolved over time?

We use technology and databases to help with research and measurement of the success of PR campaigns. We find that PR is still very much a mix of art and science, so while it plays a role, the human touch is still very important. 

How do you measure the effectiveness and impact of your PR campaigns for your clients?

Measurement within the PR space is extremely difficult and is known among the industry. We like to take a layered approach and tailor it to our client’s needs. Some ways we do measure are:

  • Mentions & reach: report on total pieces of media coverage and influencer mentions (e.g. articles, podcasts, bylines, newsletters, guaranteed impressions from webinars, organic social reach) and UVM (press release syndications will only be counted if landing in media outlets or influencer blogs)
  • Message pull-through: define key messages at the onset and measure at the end of the campaign
  • Website traffic: report on traffic spikes from publications, podcasts, influencer mentions at the end of the campaign; potential conversions 
  • Influencer engagement: report on number of partnerships and reach garnered from mentions 
  • Share of Voice: pull SOV at the onset and measure monthly or quarterly
  • Speaking engagements (events): report on total number of secured speaking engagements. Secure from events organizers: number of attendees and social shares at sessions, downloads of archived sessions hosted online
  • Awards: report on award submission wins

A very common challenge we have come across working with technology companies is often time product offerings fall behind timelines or may significantly change given engineering challenges or perhaps user feedback. Another challenge we have found is having third party advocates speak on a technology company’s behalf to the media. 

How do you approach building and maintaining relationships with the media and industry influencers?

As an agency we try to uncover as much as we can about reporters/influencers. We do our research and read their stories and we are very careful to tailor our pitches to what they cover and try our best to bring great spokespeople to them for their stories. 

What are your future goals and aspirations for Dotted Line Communications?

My goals include both growing our client roster to include more of the types of clients we have now (strong technology, amazing teams) while also continuing to ensure we keep a solid team in place. Looking forward to an incredible 2024! 

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