Ilena Di Toro began auctioning collectibles on the internet back in the 1990s. After having some initial success, she decided to try and build a more permanent platform that combined her love for movies with her new knack for the World Wide Web. Thus was born. Today the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based entrepreneur has been selling movie posters for over twenty years and is combining old school guerrilla marketing along with social media to keep her site relevant.

Di Toro’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project

In the summer 1999, I sold some childhood treasures on some internet auction sites. They sold well and I decided to try selling movie posters. People like going to the movies. So, who wouldn’t want a poster from their favorite movie? I went to movie theaters and video rental stores to pick up posters they were about to throw them out, listed them on my website and I’ve been at it ever since.

My definition of success is having a life that gives you a sense of contentment. That means, once the work is done and all the bills are paid, I want to have a life where I can feel proud of my accomplishments. I want to be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor and continue to grow as person.  

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My biggest success is building my own movie poster website equipped with only a HTML for Dummies book and by simply looking for things online. Another personal success was getting media coverage for a 108-year-old World War II veteran. My day job is in public relations and I work for an agency located in suburban Philadelphia. We were charged with getting media coverage for Bill Mohr, the second oldest World War II veteran in the US.  He was able to get an invitation meet President Obama on Veterans Day for the annual Veterans Day Breakfast in 2016. Their exchange was captured by White House photographer Pete Souza. The photo was included in Souza’s annual “Behind the Lens” series for 2016.  Bill died on December 18, 2016, yet he died a happy man since he was able to achieve his dream of meeting a U.S. President and I helped to play a part in this. 

My top challenge is getting my name out there. I addressed it by using HARO (Help a Reporter Out) social media posts on my Facebook and Twitter pages and a little guerrilla marketing. I first learned about HARO when Peter Shankman gave a talk at a luncheon sponsored by the Philadelphia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) in 2008. Now I use HARO to answer queries that relate to my business and have been able to get some good media coverage.

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Guerrilla marketing is when I utilize both an old and new way of getting my name out there. The old way is posting flyers about my website on bulletin boards in supermarkets, convenience stores, college campuses and coffeeshops.  The new way is Facebook and Twitter.

My parents are my most important role models.  They are immigrants from Italy who came to the U.S. for a better life for themselves and their children. Yes, it is a story that has been told a million times over, yet for me it is my family’s story. Mom and Dad provided my brother and I with a good life and they showed us by example how hard work, thrift and resourcefulness can lead to success.  

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