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New Years Resolutions

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

In my three decades in the Destination Marketing sector, I cannot recall a time in which DMOs were more under siege than during this just-concluded terrible, horrible, no good, bad year. An Administration that thought Brand USA was frivolous. A State Legislature that came perilously close to eliminating funding for its DMO. Sensationally accomplished DMO CEOs that were caught in the politics and drama of this age and cut loose, despite clearly exceeding their performance goals (the Caesarian knives last year were welded by both politicians and Board activists). And, as much as it pains me to say it, so much of the carnage was the result of self-inflicted wounds.

So, let us, in this first week of the New Year, jointly adopt the following 7 Resolutions for 2018:

1) Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. When I see a DMO in crisis, nine times out of ten it is because they are not effectively communicating. With each other. With Board Members. With Elected Officials. With constituents, stakeholders and investors. With the Media and Online Sneezers. Pick one or several. It’s the primary reason that things turn sour, often resulting in a loss of funding, contracts and/or a job. While it can happen to almost any DMO, where we see this dynamic most often is with rookie Executive Directors…and legacy CEOs. Newcomers to the Big Chair often think their role is to market the destination. But, failing to establish and maintain effective communication with the community leaders that keep the organization supported and funded is a recipe for a real short trip. And, for legacy CEOs…the resting on laurels is often the culprit. After spending a decade hand-holding politicians and Board members, it’s easy for an accomplished CEO to think that they’ve secured the support they need. Besides, constantly explaining and defending what we do in Destination Marketing is the tedious part of the gig. Once a CEO has their stakeholders in line, they can move on to more satisfying initiatives. But, they can’t. Constant Communication is the new Job #1 for CEOs. You wanna only market your destination? Be the Marketing Director…not the CEO.

2) Cultivate Relationships and Trust. Hot on the heels of Communication is the critical need for building Relationships and Trust. With everybody. If Destination Marketing is as important to communities as the “Halo Effect” research from Longwoods International would lead us to believe, we need to make sure that the thought leaders and politicians in our midst know it. What we do is easy to dismiss as frivolous by those with an agenda. What we do is not easily understood by those peering in from the outside. Thus, without building awareness, trust and mutually beneficial relationships with key stakeholders and influencers in your community, those that throw stones can do so with impunity. Then, everything you work for becomes suspect in the court of public opinion.

3) Research, Research, Research. I know how tough it is for a marketer to justify expenditures on research. We’re professionals; we know how to communicate to our target market. Except we don’t. We can’t. Our own biases and experiences invisibly conspire against us as we attempt to make the best decisions. When we began testing video with DMOvizion, we were shocked to learn that a number of images that have been second-nature inclusions in tourism advertising for decades are among the worst images that can be used in attempting to lure some visitors to a destination. And, it’s not just researching what works for consumers…but what your investors and stakeholders think about the job you're doing. Hubris may be personally comforting…but research keeps you at the top of your game.

4) Perform a Legal and Accounting Check-up. It’s easy to order an annual financial audit and feel like you’re good to go. But, every few years, it’s smart to do a legal and accounting “check-up” to make sure that the way you’ve always done business still passes muster with changing laws, generally accepted business and accounting practices and, importantly, the evolving culture of the community. Honestly, the increasing utilization of innuendo, white lies and outright false proclamations by today’s media and some politicians over the past year creates a very different playing field for DMOs than just three years ago. So, even legal or commonly accepted business-practices can be spun against a tax-supported DMO by outside interests with an agenda. A regular review can help identify these potential pitfalls.

5) Learn to Present Like Steve Jobs. I can’t count the number of City Council dog-and-ponies I’ve endured in which the presenter lost their audience (often their primary investors) in the first three slides. Stop the superfluous chit-chat. Do not lead with your Board roster or the Awards your DMO has received. Stop building a presentation like they taught you in High School. Lead with your strengths. With BIG numbers backed by the images, infographics and videos to SHOW your impact on supporting and growing the Visitor Economy. Trust me, most public officials cannot get their head around those economic impact calculations we are so fond of espousing. They're great for background...but not as the lead. So, stop doing it. Honestly, watch a Steve Jobs presentation on YouTube. Or, simply look at the graphic on the right. There are no bullets; there is a slide for every important thought. Indeed, if you’re going to use slides, there should be no more than 7 words on that slide…if for no other reason than you won’t be sucked into reading them. The slide is the background exclamation point. You need to be the focus. And, you need to know your message so well that you don't have to read your slides.

6) Be Fearless. There’s a line from a song by the band KBC: “Don’t be afraid of anything. Don’t be afraid of anyone.” And, as Billy Joel used to say at the end of his concerts, “Don’t Take Shit from Anybody.” I’m not saying go out and look for a fight. But, if I’ve learned anything from my personal experiences, it’s that taking the high road and not punching back with the truth only results in depriving the people that want to support you from having the intel to confidently do so. I remember the days where PR pros would advise us all to lay back; that responding only gave air to the fire. In today’s digital world, untruths are like herpes. A fearless response is the only counter you have available. Do what’s right for your destination, your DMO and yourself as a DMO professional.

7) Buy the new Book. I know…it’s a cheesy way to end these Resolutions. But, some veteran DMO pros have told me that even they took away some new ideas from the read. And, even if you don’t…I guarantee your Board and key stakeholders will. What I can’t guarantee is that the attack on DMOs will subside. Indeed, there is every indication that it will only get worse as the dumbing of America and the paucity of true leadership continues to unfold. But, addressing these 7 Resolutions will help blunt those who mean us (and our communities) harm.

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