The Internet provides valuable public relations opportunities that now equal -- or even eclipse -- standard marketing and PR tools.

The Internet can help businesses reach targeted or global audiences, increasing exposure to markets and media.

Here are several handy online tools for getting the word out about your product or service.

Reaching the Public
Internet newsgroups allow you to connect directly with people who have specific interests. By monitoring these groups and joining informal discussions, you can establish yourself as an expert in your field.

Here are a few rules for posting to newsgroups.

Soft sell is key. Don't make a blatant sales pitch when posting to newsgroups. You'll be tuned out immediately.

Participate. Share advice in areas of your expertise. Add value.

Sell with every post. Include the name of your business and a link to your site in your e-mail signature so the information is always available. As people in the newsgroups recognize your expertise, they'll want to visit your site to learn more.

Return often. As with any promotion, multiple exposures are key.

Consider: A boat retailer would find 17 newsgroups listed on AOL's Usenet server under the topic "boats." Discussions range from sale postings to the merits of various craft. A shrewd retailer could, with minimal time expense, contribute a few thoughtful opinions per day and quickly be identified as an expert. With a signature and a Web link enclosed in the postings, that could be as valuable as face-to-face networking.

Reaching the Media
Here are a few sites that allow you to reach the media at minimal cost.

PRWeb allows companies to post press releases free of charge. Topics include everything from construction and education to religion and travel. annually publishes a list of experts in industries as varied as education, acupuncture, health and UFOs. The Web site now boasts 100,000 hits per month from journalists seeking sources. Inclusion in the book and the Web databases starts at $495 (U.S.) annually. This makes you findable through Lexus-Nexus, a leading database used by journalists.

Bacon's is one of the premier media listing services. It can distribute your press release to a customized audience chosen from its database of print and broadcast journalists. An individually addressed one-page release, without photo, sent to 200 journalists, costs $150.

What online tools are savvy businesses using? Marika Flatt, national media director of Phenix & Phenix publishing PR firm, recommends It acts as a customized wire service and can send 50 press releases to a list of targeted media outlets that cover your industry, for $49.95.

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