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By SARA FISHER

Staff Reporter

The tech boom has led to another boom: local public relations firms, especially those specializing in the Internet and other leading-edge technologies.

"There has been an incredible surge in demand for high-tech P.R. firms," said Mike Terpin, head of Marina del Rey-based Terpin Group.

As a result, local firms that focus on technology say their fee incomes have climbed substantially over the last year. Chris Aaron, vice president at Century City-based Miller/Shandwick Technologies, and Sue Bohle, president of the Century City-based Bohle Co., both report a 30 percent increase in fee revenue over the last nine months.

The boom does have two downsides: finding job candidates with enough technology experience and paying for their services.

A study by Marshall Consultants, an L.A.-based executive recruiting firm specializing in communications, found that technology specialists at P.R. agencies make considerably more than their counterparts with other specialties. A vice president specializing in P.R. at an L.A. agency would make, on average, $115,500 a year, compared with $80,300 for a vice president specializing in manufacturing.

Explosive growth in high-tech P.R. actually began two or three years ago, but many agency clients were start-ups, and some went out of business almost as quickly as they appeared resulting in serious fee-collection problems.

That, however, appears to be lessening as the industry matures.

"Our fee income is growing not only through working with more companies, but also because the start-up companies we represent have become more savvy than their predecessors," said Rachel McCallister, partner at MPRM/Killer App Communications. "We've seen much more stability this year."

Many of the P.R. battles are waged over the business wires. Business Wire, one of the nation's largest press-release wire services, calculates that 45 percent of all its releases are tech-related, up from 33 percent in 1994 and 20 percent in 1991.

Internet Wire, a Marina del Rey company specializing in technology-related press releases, has seen its releases grow by 75 percent over the last 12 months. Executives from PR Newswire, the other leading service, said tech-related releases constitute a majority of its contents.

"Tech news completely dominates the wire now," said Mike Iannuzzi, Business Wire's regional sales manager. "We're benefiting from the rising tech tide right along with the P.R. firms."

The P.R. wires have almost become de facto news services. "Some press releases are not distributed for the use of the media, but are filed for online perpetuity," Bohle said. "Through the wire, these pieces of news can be picked up through searchable indexes and search engines."

She estimated that her company now puts out about two releases for some clients every week, compared with two releases per month last year, because of increasing pressure from clients to get their names out.

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