You might not agree with Michael Terpin’s vision of the future, but you can’t ignore him. Fresh off securing dollars 17.5 million in VC funding, Terpin’s Internet Wire is eager to do battle with the big boys of the news distribution market. Craig McGuire reports.
You might not agree with Michael Terpin’s vision of the future, but
you can’t ignore him. Fresh off securing dollars 17.5 million in VC
funding, Terpin’s Internet Wire is eager to do battle with the big boys
of the news distribution market. Craig McGuire reports.
If Michael Terpin is right, many of the tools by which PR pros
distribute news might not be around much longer.
’Postal delivery - which takes three to four days to get there - is
dead,’ says Terpin, 43. ’Faxing media, grossly ineffective and
intrusive, will be dead in a short time. Satellite distribution is
immediate but unnecessarily expensive. The entire industry is headed
towards Internet distribution.’
So confident was Terpin that last year he stepped down as head of his
eponymous PR agency to launch Internet Wire, the leader among a handful
of Internet-based news distribution services that have sprung up over
the last few years.
Placing bets on the Web
The entire fledgling Internet news distribution market - valued at
barely dollars 10 million last year- is a far cry from the estimated
dollars 350 million divvied up by satellite-based news distribution
heavyweights like Business Wire and PR Newswire.
But as with every dot-com story, there’s so much potential that already,
Terpin claims, Internet Wire is valued at around dollars 43 million (10
times the value of his PR firm) following a successful ’99 in which
revenues doubled each consecutive quarter. With 91 employees, 26,000
journalists hooked in and 2,300 clients on its books, the company has
expanded from its LA base to set up shop in New York and San
Flush from an infusion of dollars 17.5 million in VC funding, most of
which will go to sales and marketing, Terpin hopes to build on Internet
Wire’s early foothold in the industry. ’We’ve learned the moves to get
into this market,’ notes Terpin. ’Now we’re learning what it takes to
Terpin got his PR chops in journalism. After earning a J-school degree
from Syracuse University, Terpin plied his trade in upstate New
But PR was beckoning. After holding a few high-ranking posts at Avatar
Communications and Canyon Studios PR, Terpin planted his own flag in
Manhattan Beach, CA on the first day of 1990. With just a single
employee - a freelancer at that - Terpin set his sights on the video
game and CD-ROM industries.
Soon after, he inked his first deal with Fujitsu.
During the mid-’90s, with the business world rushing to get online, many
in the PR industry were still wrinkling their noses at the Internet.
’It’s really only been in the last year or so that the PR industry has
overwhelmingly embraced the Internet,’ says Terpin. ’Around 1994, the
thought leaders in the industry got really excited but didn’t have any
products. Many tried to set up pages, got frustrated and quit. Some
bought e-mail lists only to find there weren’t many journalists on
The Terpin Group would become the first outside PR agency to work with
industry pioneers such as America Online, Earthlink and Xoom.com,
according to Terpin, whose firm also did start-up work for Jupiter
Communications, Playboy.com, Rollingstone.com and iPlanet. Terpin
attributes much of the success he’s had with Internet Wire to his
earlier work in PR. ’It was a different type of experience, looking over
the shoulder of clients creating a whole new industry,’ he says. Today,
The Terpin Group, with its hi-tech focus and 30 full-time employees, is
attracting buyout bids from a number of suitors.
Terpin introduced the predecessor for Internet Wire in 1994 - a system
called gina.com (Global Internet News Agency) as a service for
And by mid-1998, when The Terpin Group was no longer among the top 10
clients of the service and with dollars 250,000 in annual revenues
generated by only three employees, Terpin realized that his agency could
Terpin is frank enough to admit he has stumbled at times. ’Whenever I’ve
opted for excessive caution, I’ve had to watch other companies beat me
to the punch. Conversely, when I’ve taken on too much and not properly
planned for contingency, things inherently fall through the cracks.’
Terpin points to a time just after the launch of gina.com in 1994. ’In
our first year, we launched maybe a dozen services, everything from
search-engine registration to meta-tag analysis,’ he explains. ’What we
probably should have done was instead focus on a few - but one of those
did develop into Internet Wire.’
Terpin eventually stepped down from The Terpin Group to spin off
Internet Wire with dollars 1.1 million in seed funding he received from
NBCi CEO Chris Kitze, as well as three Northern California VC firms
(Osprey Ventures, Montreux Equity Partners and Mondful Partners).
Not surprisingly, hi-tech pioneer Kitze is bullish on his partner’s
’I think the market is big enough that all of these companies are going
to do well,’ he says. ’Being solely focused on the Internet, Internet
Wire isn’t dragging along all of the extra baggage that the others
Nonetheless, Terpin still has his hands full: ’I sometimes feel like one
of those circus performers that keeps dozens of plates spinning, running
from one end of the stage to the next, keeping everything in motion
before piling on yet another plate.’
But with IPO specialists Sequoia Capital and Hummer Winblad Partners
among the VC firms banking on Internet Wire’s vision of the future, it
may be just a matter of time before the company goes public.
Of course, not everyone sees things Terpin’s way. Business Wire SVP
Michael Lissauer says there’s no question the Internet will have a
profound impact on the delivery of news. ’But it has not, and will not,
supersede satellite transmission in the foreseeable future,’ he
Adds PR Newswire SVP David Armon, ’PR Newswire’s reach on the Web is
double, if not triple, that of Internet Wire.’
Terpin disagrees: ’We have the largest direct distribution to media via
the Internet.’ Internet Wire claims a database of 26,500 journalists,
while PR Newswire touts nearly 30,000 subscribers to its two online
services - PRN Pressroom and NEWSdesk. Business Wire, meanwhile, says
between 8,000 and 12,000 journalists receive direct online distribution,
not counting the 7,200 registered for its Newstream.com service.
Regardless of what his competitors think of him, Terpin is developing a
loyal following. ’If there’s anyone out there that can take on Business
Wire and PR Newswire,’ says Annie VanBebber, CEO at Dedication Channel,
’I’d say it would have to be Mike Terpin.’
MICHAEL TERPIN - Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO Internet Wire
1984-87: President, Avatar Communications, San Bernadino, CA
1987: President, Canyon Studios PR
1990: Co-founds The Terpin Group
1999: Launches Internet Wire.