“All this free time on your hands”

As we move into Week 523 of The Shutdown To End All Shutdowns, I have noticed an increase in the number of marketing emails that offer suggestions on what to do with “all this free time on your hands.”

Take, for example, this one, which I received from one of the live music venues I have been known to frequent:

screengrab of marketing email during COVID-19


At any other time, the prompt to “reflect on the importance of music” in my life would have made me at least smile. I would have given them props for being creative, trying to extend a relationship with me (their customer) beyond the box office (which is where they ultimately want me to end up)… because that is what good marketers do.

Instead, they got this:

Both as a customer, as well as a marketer, I couldn’t help but ask: what “free time”?

What we are living through is not a paid sabbatical for Almost Everyone In The World.

If people are still lucky enough to have their health and their jobs (more and more people are not), and if they are lucky enough to be able to do them from home (many cannot), the fact that they are not currently commuting =/= “free” time.

If anything, more people are spending more time working, perhaps being asked to take on more responsibility, for less pay. I was talking about this with my students at Johns Hopkins just yesterday.

And they are still having to manage kids/parents/pets/daily life/you name it without the “normal” level of support they used to be able to count on.

Over and above that, they are having to do so while trying to process what is, essentially, global grief, the likes of which we have not experienced in our lifetimes.

(Unless you are 105 years old or more, because then you’d have been at least three years old during the Spanish Flu, which was the last time we experienced a global pandemic on this scale.)

And grief, as I can tell you from personal experience, is tiring.

It is exhausting.

It is heavy.

It is weighty.

And it expands to fill the time and space available to it.

So, I ask again: what free time?

While my middle name isn’t “Pollyanna,” I truly believe everyone is doing the best they can right now.

But when I see emails like this, I just have to shake my head and wonder, what on earth are they thinking? Who is letting marketing like this get through?

I respectfully offer the below as a gentle reminder of how not to communicate ever, but particularly in a time of crisis:

Please do not go from primarily transactional (“come see this concert at our venue!”) to pseudo relational (“let us be your fake music therapist!”) without actually having invested in relationship building first.

And relationship building begins with consistent communications that puts community building at its core, well before an organization is in crisis mode.

Because once a crisis hits, everyone and their brother is trying to get your attention.

And who will you, and I, pay attention to?

The folk who made us feel we mattered before the you-know-what hit the you-know-where.


I know it’s Friday, and your day was packed from before the time you read this blog post (if you even got to read it on Friday!).

But *if* you happen to be free around 3 pm ET today, come join us in the Social PR Posse group, where my friend Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA, will be joining me in a live Q&A around ethical communications while in quarantine.

Because, life as we know it is likely to continue … until it doesn’t.

And what I will give my discernment-challenged marketing colleagues, who penned that underwhelming email, is that at least they are trying to figure out how to proceed with business as usual… when it is anything but usual.

So, as the rest of us do that, how do we fulfill our responsibilities to our employers and clients, while not making our audiences 🙄, 🤬, 🤮, or worse?

I’m looking forward to learning more from Mark today, and hope you’ll be able to join us.

Note: this event that will only be live-streamed in the Social PR Posse group, which is completely free to join, but which is only accessible via request. If you’d like to join us – it’s a wonderful community, if I say so myself! – you can sign up for my list here, and then just follow the prompts.

I hope you and yours are staying well. If I “see” you this afternoon, lovely; if not – another time.

Happy May Day!