Aly Saxe of Iris: PR Today Calls for Efficiency, Scalability and Accountability

It’s every business’ dream to get featured in national publications, popular websites and even television. But getting the attention of important outlets takes a great deal of effort to connect and interact with influential people that can make it happen. In today’s over saturated world of tweets, texts and email overload, it also takes a systematic approach to pull it all together efficiently…and repeatedly.

PR professional Aly Saxe, founder of the PR management platform Iris, discusses the challenges of modern public relations in the face of rising competition to get clients on the front page, and faster rising customer expectations to make it there.

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modern public relationsSmall Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about your personal background?

Aly Saxe: My background is on the public relations agency side. I worked for a couple different agencies in their technology groups before starting my own B2B technology-focused agency in 2007. Started it in Phoenix, Arizona, and somehow managed to grow through those years into Silicon Valley areas, like Boulder, Dallas, Austin, a little bit more in Southern California. Also the Phoenix market, where we’re based.

Then in about 2011, as a small business owner, things got to be pretty painful with our processes and management and reporting, and that’s when Iris was born.

Small Business Trends: Iris is a cloud-based public relations management system. With the growth of social and the latest technologies, the noise that’s getting generated, it must be very difficult for companies to get the kind of attention that they need. Is that why you put together Iris?

Aly Saxe: That’s one of the big reasons. PR has definitely changed. There’s more urgency than ever for companies to be noticed. Especially small companies that are competing with large brands that have huge, or even unlimited, marketing budgets. Not to mention the news media landscape, as you know, Brent, has changed a lot.

Iris was created to really help on two fronts. One is to help PR teams within companies – small and large or agencies.  Iris helps companies manage everything that they’re doing. The pace of our day to day is so much faster than it’s ever been in keeping track of all the pitching we’re doing, all of the reports, all of the results that are coming in, the different campaigns we’re working on. It’s a lot to manage.

Small Business Trends: How does a system like yours that’s focused on public relations and promotions differ from marketing automation?

Aly Saxe: Marketing automation is an interesting comparison, because it is a somewhat newer category. It’s also a bit of a misleading category, because it’s meant to automate marketing processes but what a lot of those systems do is actually create a lot more work for the marketing department to manage those systems.

I would actually compare Iris more to CRM (customer relationship management). Not necessarily in functionality, but in the idea that it takes what a person would do with a Rolodex, spreadsheets and some notepads and actually build some process around that through a very smart tool.

Small Business Trends: How does this kind of system help your clients build the kind of relationships that they’re going to need to in order to get the word out?

Aly Saxe: It all comes down to influencers and relationships with those influencers. So whether they are a social evangelist, a blogger, a traditional reporter, an analyst, they’re all influencers that are important to the PR person, clients or company. The difference between now and five years ago is there are about ten times more now that we have to build relationships with versus previously.

The way that Iris helps is all of your interactions with those influencers are automatically captured in the software. So if your boss or your client were to say to you, ‘Hey, have you talked to so and so from Small Biz Trends recently? I’d really like to chat with them about what we have coming up.’ Instead of having to rack your brain, go back to your email, go look in spreadsheets, find your notes and determine when the last time you spoke to them was, you could just pop into Iris and see your entire history with that person.

So there’s a huge benefit to having all of that relationship history in one place. Not just for you, but for your team as a whole.

Small Business Trends: Do small businesses understand that PR is more science than art and needs these kind of processes/systems?

Aly Saxe: I think they are savvier. They’re sophisticated in that regard. But I think that they’re also expecting their PR agencies or their PR teams to step up, and they’re kind of wondering why we haven’t.

I think that there is certainly a misunderstanding about the PR process, and there’s always expectation management, which PR people deal with a lot. But I think that we can curb those pains by showing the small business owners not only are we sophisticated, not only is there a science and a method to this madness, but here are the tools we use to help manage that method.

I think it can only help us prove that we’re not just out there waving our hands and producing a New York Times piece. There’s a lot of work that actually goes into that.

To that point, that was also part of the impetus of creating Iris. I would have clients come to my agency and say, ‘Well, what’s it going to take to get written up in The New York Times?’ And I kept giving them the qualitative answer,’Well, it’s going to take a really interesting news hook, or a trending story, or a great customer case study.’

The client didn’t want to hear it. It took me a long time to figure out that what the client wanted was a number. They wanted to know how many interactions do you have to have with The New York Times over what amount of time? Is it three months, six months, a year before they’re going to pay attention to us?

Once I figured out that they were asking a more sophisticated question, that’s when I started thinking about Iris and how I can deliver that answer?

And then I had to answer the question, how do I even determine that? One day I had a client that said, ‘What’s it going to take to get in The New York Times?’ This is a true story. I found four of my existing clients that had been in The New York Times recently, and I looked at what it took to get them in The New York Times. From how many months of pitching, how many pitches, how many news items we had to deliver and how many interviews before The New York Times wrote about them.

It took me an entire day, and that’s thousands of dollars in my agency’s world to deliver the answer to that client. Once I did, the client never asked again, and that’s when the light bulb went off.

Small Business Trends: Wow. That’s a cool story. It will only become more and more of a necessity to be able to answer that quickly just from a standpoint of knowing what it’s going to take and being able to deliver that quickly. Then help them execute it.

Aly Saxe: Exactly. I think the data is going to become more and more important. Again, you see other industries utilizing data to set benchmarks, to improve performance, to win business, to set industry standards. I think that in the PR industry, we’re going to start catching up to that and using data like this to do the exact same thing. I think most small business owners are looking for that data from their PR partners.

Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more about Iris?

Aly Saxe: The website is

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.