IN this era of publicity, Zigong - hardly a city that is a household name - is using its traditional art of making gigantic lanterns to grab attention and lure investment. And the idea of ''selling'' through lantern festivals is working for the remote city in Sichuan's south, China's home of dinosaurs and a rich well-salt reserve. So far, Zigong has attracted about six billion yuan (about HK$5.35 billion) in investment from trade fairs staged with lantern shows. With exhibiting from Beijing to Shanghai and Guangzhou, Zigong has sought to build a reputation for its craftsmanship in building of colossal lanterns. ''The lantern fairs are matching-making Zigong with the outside world,'' said Mao Changli, deputy general manager of Zigong Lantern Festival and Trade Co. ''It brings us friends and helps our economy to grow and prosper.'' Its exhibitions are not only confined to the mainland, with the art having been taken to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea and the United States - and the next stop will be in Hong Kong. Lantern festivals hosted overseas have wooed foreign investment in about 50 projects in the city, from glass-making to compressor manufacture. ''We have spent huge efforts in organising the exhibition overseas - and money as well. But they are worthwhile when we are known by outsiders,'' Mr Mao said. Zigong, the third largest city in Sichuan, ranks in importance as an industrial city after the provincial capital Chengdu. It is famous for its well-salt reserves, which have made it a base for salt refinery. Development of petrochemical industries and other related-businesses have flourished, with more than 1,700 large enterprises established. However, poor transportation has strangled development and meant little outside participation in the city. There is no public airport in Zigong, and it is a bumpy six-hour drive by road from Chengdu airport. As part of the city's plan to draw foreign investment, Mr Mao said work was under way to build an expressway from Chengdu to Zigong, which would shorten the six-hour drive by half. ''Until we hosted the first lantern festival in 1987, we were not familiar with even the mainland public, not to talk about foreigners,'' Mr Mao said. ''A city is just like an enterprise. Publicity is important. People know you produce quality products only when they are properly publicised. ''Zigong is advertising itself through the lantern festivals. We hope that once people get to know more about the city's culture, they will come to invest.'' The lanterns are meticulously designed, with the highest 27 metres tall - the result of teamwork among enterprises in the city. Zigong plans a lantern show for Hong Kong in December this year, with many gigantic lanterns on display - the largest group occupying an area of several hundred square metres.