How to lead a storytelling, engaging and customer-centric DMO

Sara Raymond de Booy

22 September 2016

It’s a common question from destination marketing organizations (DMOs) across the world: how do you convince your board, hoteliers, other partners, and even your local community the value of content generation, engagement, and storytelling? When he walked into his new workplace at Clark-Floyd Counties Convention-Tourism Bureau in 2012, Executive Director Jim Epperson was hit by a blast from the marketing past that forced him to take a very formulaic approach to shifting the organization’s culture and updating the marketing plan from 1980 to the present day.

At Social Media Tourism Symposium in Nashville, Jim spoke about his challenges and successes in moving the Southern Indiana marketing organization from the past to the present all while empowering his front-line visitor communications staff and getting buy-in from his board.

Here’s Jim’s approach and some of his insights to consider in order to help your organization move forward.

Jim outlined 6 steps that helped him to kickstart the evolution of the organization:

1. A consumer-focused sales and marketing plan

Jim set out to write a marketing plan like no one at the organization had seen before by identifying online and offline touch points where his DMO needed to be present to stay relevant to visitors.

2. An outcome-focused community relations plan

Jim set a plan to demonstrate to the local community the value of the tourism industry and showcase the value-add that a DMO brings.

3. A responsive human resources plan

Identify the skills that are missing within the team and define new positions to account for them. Jim added a few new positions to the team and also altered some of the existing ones to account for skills that weren’t being utilized.

4. A new budget structure

All of the above helped Jim to define the new budget. He adopted his budget structure and line items from DMAI’s Destination Marketing Accreditation Program (DMAP) resources.

5. A commitment to investing reserves

Now this might be where Jim and his tourism board had a slight, yet luxurious advantage, as they were able to a sizeable budget left over from previous years. This enabled them more financial flexibility in overhauling the organization and moving forward.

6. A promise to measure and adjust

Jim wanted to shift the culture of the board to be more data-driven. He did this by educating what he intended to measure, and why these indicators were important in marking success. Internally, he established monthly performance measurements so that his team could make slight adjustments as needed. These were then reported to the board.

Is leadership providing your communications and marketing team with what they need?

Ask your team what they need from you. Does it match what you think they need? Jim spoke to his team about what they needed to better do their jobs. The team asked for creative freedom, guidance, professional development, creative support and encouragement, direction and feedback, clear brand guidance, and of course budget to match their goals.

What does your communications staff need from you to work more efficiently?

Be open about what you need from your marketing team.

Of course, open communication means that Jim has to be clear with his front-line, consumer-facing team about what he (and the board) needs from them in return. The first is to take time to think and analyze. He requested content producers give the CEO and boards the confidence that they were approaching things from a strategic direction, not from a day-to-day tactical approach. He wanted his team to be accountable and measure what they’re doing. He needed his team to also balance time between creativity and data and encouraged them to set time aside for it. Additionally, he requested his team frequently send him ideas and feedback.

How have you been able to evolve the culture of your DMO? Share your tips in the comments below.


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