Multimedia. It might be the wave of the future, but what -- if anything -- does it mean for your business today? Some small and midsize companies are experimenting with multimedia business applications, which incorporate some combination of sound, images, video, and text. A survey conducted last year by Business Research Group (BRG), in Newton, Mass., found that companies with fewer than 100 employees that were developing multimedia applications most often used them for presentations; larger companies were more likely to try multimedia in training programs. Kevin O'Neill, BRG research vice-president, suspects those trends have continued this year. Here are two entrepreneurial approaches:

The low-cost option. As a technology consultant, Cheryl Currid has been advising clients to try multimedia. Now she's taking her own advice. The president of Houston-based Currid & Co., which has 10 employees, undertook her first in-house multimedia project in August. With $79 Lotus ScreenCam for Windows software running on sound-equipped PCs, Currid and a colleague began work on a Windows tutorial that combines their own voices (giving instructive tips) with Windows displays. She's happy with ScreenCam, which records what appears on-screen in Windows applications and allows users to add sound. "We were really impressed with how quickly we took to it," she says. Her next experiment: she has bought a $499 Intel Smart Video Recorder, so she can add video clips to the slide shows she produces with Microsoft PowerPoint presentation software.

The full-fledged production. Managers at DayStar Digital, in Flowery Branch, Ga., a 75-employee manufacturer of accelerators for Macintosh computers, decided last December to produce a promotional multimedia CD-ROM -- in time for a January trade show. DayStar programmer Lee Tilt had worked on multimedia projects elsewhere and so was able to use software that DayStar already owned -- including Director, a multimedia-development tool from San Francisco-based Macromedia. Tilt constructed a CD-ROM that uses the metaphor of a notebook to convey a wide variety of product information. Viewers can move from page to page to change topics.

Tilt relied primarily on existing in-house marketing material but also incorporated video clips produced by an outside videographer. He estimates that developing the entire project cost $6,000 -- far less than the $30,000 to $50,000 he thinks an outside agency would have charged. DayStar then had 3,000 Macintosh CD-ROMs manufactured by a vendor who charged $1.50 for each disk and its accompanying promotional material. DayStar employees handed out 1,500 of the CD-ROMs to prospects at the trade show in return for completed questionnaires. The remaining disks were used for other promotional campaigns.

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