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How to write a memorable out of office message

Posted by Sarah Mitchell on 14th December , 2021 in The Write Fit
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If you’re like me, the last thing you do before shutting your laptop and turning off the office light to start your holiday is set your out of office (OoO) reply. If you’re using Google’s suggestion for the email, you’re missing a massive opportunity. According to our own anecdotal evidence, nearly everyone falls into the trap.


See what I mean? It’s true no matter what language you use.

I’m not judging. I was right there with you for the better part of my emailing career. Working with Dan Hatch has taught me you can find all kinds of little opportunities to delight your audience and amuse yourself.

For marketers, it’s a way to deliver a few extra gems while your mind is on anything but work. It’s also a chance to flex your creative writing muscle, something that doesn’t happen often enough if you ask me.

How do you move from the mundane to the delightful?

Here’s how I approach it.

Change the subject line
Entice people to open your email by changing the subject line supplied by your service provider. Make sure “out of office” is still in the title. I’ve seen a few where it was unclear it was an automated message and felt entirely inappropriate in response to the email I’d sent.

Tell a story
Give your readers a few clues about what you’re doing or why you’re away from the office. Add your own voice and personality to the message so the reader feels like you’re taking them into your confidence. Make it short, no more than a few sentences.

Don’t make it too personal
You don’t want to divulge too many personal details, because identity theft is real and scammers are everywhere. Leave out names and places. It’s enough to say you’re spending Christmas with your family. Don’t say you’re flying to Peoria on the 23rd to spend the holidays with your sister Natalie and her three kids.

Include important details
The purpose of an out of office message is to help people know what to do if they can’t find you. Give a clear date when you’ll be back or who to contact in the meantime. No need to elaborate on how your office operates.

Don’t divulge ALL the details
I never include phone numbers because those nefarious database hacks comb through OoO replies for an easy way to get contact details. For the same reason, I leave out titles or reporting structures. Don’t say “contact my manager” or “contact the head of department”; simply give an email address.

Take your normal signature off your OoO
Going back to those pesky scammers, if your OoO reply uses your normal email signature, you’re probably giving them your office address and phone number(s). Take it off and save yourself getting spammed for the next year. For that matter, Google Mail lets you specify whether you send your OoO to everyone or only the people in your contact book. That’s another way to limit sending your details to everyone.

End with a hint, tip or a little treat
It doesn’t have to be a hard call to action, but why not suggest your readers visit an important blog post, sign up to an event or subscribe to your newsletter? Adding it in as a P.S. is a gentle nudge that you’re still in business, even if you’re away from the office. If you have a free download – like a useful checklist – why not include it?

Here’s a recent example from Dan:

Subject line: I’m out of the office (and watching old Garbo films)
Text: Thanks so much for your message. I’m afraid I’m extremely not at my desk right now, as I’m taking some well-earned leave. I won’t be checking my emails while I’m away because, in the words of the divine Greta Garbo in the 1932 film Grand Hotel, “I think, Suzette, I have never felt so tired”.

If your enquiry is urgent, please contact [Sarah’s email].

If it can wait, I will be back at my desk on Monday, 16 August, rested, refreshed and ready to write for you. In the meantime, as Garbo would say, I want to be alone…

Yours in overly dramatic flair,

PS. If you love old movies and you love marketing, find out why the hand that rocks the database is the hand that rules the world here.

Here’s my out of office reply from November

Subject Line: Out of office (Finally!)
Text: Thank you for your email. Back in July, I tried to take a family holiday but was thwarted by a snap lockdown. What can you do? It’s the times we live in.

We’re working on a second attempt at the same trip which means I’m going to be away from the office. I have every intention of avoiding email and my phone. Don’t look for me on social media. I won’t be there. This truly is a case of “It’s not you; it’s me.”

If you need help before I return on Monday, 22 November 2021, please contact [Dan’s email]. He’ll help you out. He’s a good egg like that – and a wonderful writer.

Kind regards,

P.S. Are you reading The Write Fit?

How to tell if it’s working

I rarely, if ever, got a response to my OoO before I started to put a little more love into them. Now, it’s not unusual to have several positive comments waiting for me on my return. The best compliment is from those people who ask if they can swipe my message to use the next time they go on leave. As long as they change the backup contact information, I’m delighted to have someone else use it to up their OoO game.

Sarah Mitchell
14 December 2021

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