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7.20.99  
The Art of Making a Splash Online
Tell a dramatic story that explains how you're different, and be candid

Q: How can I position my online art gallery to get the publicity it deserves? --A.A., New York

A: Rise above the clutter by defining what makes your company new and different and better than the competition. Don't dwell on the technical. Just being online is no longer newsworthy, and reporters will yawn at your speeds-and-feeds plug unless you are making something significantly faster, smarter, or easier for your clients to use.

Focus your message on customer service, detailing how you're helping your customers buy art and navigate the world of E-commerce, advises Harry Pforzheimer, executive vice-president at Silicon Valley-based Edelman Public Relations. If you can involve your clients and let them tell the story for you, so much the better, he says. And be willing to talk about the bad as well as the good. "The media is sick and tired of companies who can't stand anything negative being said. Talk about your profits, and your jobs, sure, but also tell how many times you were fired and how many times you failed. If you can't be candid, you don't want PR, you want advertising," says Jack O'Dwyer, a PR industry analyst.

Can you craft a dramatic story and sell it to the press yourself? Absolutely. Just be smart about who you're pitching and what they write about. "Your press releases could go to traditional media, industry publications, trade journals, and new media, including Web-zines, says Don Middleberg, who specializes in publicizing the online industry at Middleberg & Associates in New York.

Always follow up with a phone call. Make your case succinctly and stress any timely news angles. Don't have the time, money, or ego to toot your own horn? Seek out a small agency or freelance consultant who will devote time to you that larger, pricier agencies will be lavishing on their mega-clients. Get references from colleagues, competitors, editors, and reporters. You want someone with contacts, credibility, and personality -- not a $3,000 suit and an M.O. that is loud and obnoxious. "A good PR person should be a door opener who gets out of the way of your story. And it shouldn't cost a fortune. We're not talking rocket science here," says O'Dwyer. Agencies get paid monthly retainers from $1,500 to $20,000, experts say, or by the project, ranging from $1,000 to $100,000, depending on scope.

Take the time to check with the Public Relations Society of America, www.prsa.org, for agency lists, advice, links, and articles. And visit O'Dwyer's Web site, www.1pr.com, to learn how small companies can choose an agency without being at the mercy of PR spin doctors. Regional listings of PR firms can be found at: www.webcom.com/impulse/prlist.html.

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