Your Vacation Message: Make It Work for You

Going away on vacation this month? Your out-of-office message will probably be the only point of contact between you and your colleagues and clients during that time.

Yet most people dash off their vacation messages at the last minute, with only the briefest need-to-know information. With a little extra detail, your out-of-office messages can serve as promotional vehicles to boost your credentials and forge better personal relationships.

I don’t have any actual statistics on open rates for vacation messages, but my sense is they’re probably clicked on more than most. After all, if you’re working with a colleague or vendor on a project, you need to know when she’ll return and you probably have some interest in her business and personal lives.

To write your next vacation message, start with the basics:

  • Away dates: when you’re leaving and when you’ll be back in the office
  • Who to contact while you’re away
  • Whether you will be accessible by e-mail or voicemail, how to contact you if necessary, and how often you will check messages.

Now, take a look at your message and see what’s missing.

If your auto-responder is like mine, it doesn’t automatically include your signature line. You’ll need to recreate it, including your Web site address and other contact information.

Then, consider some extra details you can add to your message to provide more impact. If you are:

  • Traveling to an exotic locale, be sure to mention it. This will elevate you in your reader’s eyes — and give you both something to talk about when you return.
  • Blogging while you’re away or posting pictures to a site, send a link. Just be sure any personal comments or photos you post are appropriate to share with business contacts, including clients and your company’s upper management. When in doubt, leave it out.
  • Traveling to conferences or seminars for career development, mention this credential builder. I let my colleagues and prospects know I’m building my knowledge when mention I’m attending a client conference on healthcare technology, data center management, or other IT topics.
  • If you’re assuming a leadership role by leading a seminar, heading up a volunteer project, or something similar, let people know. When I’m out of the office giving a training session on copywriting or judging creative awards, I always mention this in my auto-responder. And of course, when I actually win an award, that achievement gets its own special mention.
  • Introducing a new product or working on a high-profile project, create a little ad at the bottom of the auto-responder or include a notation about it in your signature line. Most people I work with in the conference business always include the names of the events they’re working on, the dates of the events, and the URLs in their sig line. When I go on vacation, I typically list the names of the training sessions offered in the upcoming season to stimulate interest.

Of course, you should use discretion and judgment in what you include in an out-of-office message. You obviously won’t include information about a confidential project. It may not be especially wise to broadcast that you’re taking a few days off to finalize your messy divorce or bail your teenager out of jail. And if you’ve been taking a lot of days off recently, you may want to stay under the corporate radar and not broadcast it.

Finally, don’t forget to send a “before the vacation” message a few weeks ahead to notify your colleagues and business partners of your upcoming absence so everyone can plan accordingly.

Have you read any really fun or innovative out-of-office messages lately? Send them to me. If I get enough, I’ll run a column devoted to the best.

Karen is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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