For some time after becoming a list broker more than 10 years ago, I planned the same summer vacations I always had: weeklong camping trips around July 4 and right before Labor Day. It took a while to catch on that those were the worst times to be away, because our clients were furiously executing campaigns to break right after the holidays.

Most marketers carefully plan events and promotions to skirt holidays and special "off-limits" dates like September 11 or Memorial Day. But, often, the same attention isn't given to the campaign launch date when email invitations will go out.

After years of trial and error to figure out the cycle of marketing campaigns' ebb and flow, I recently put together a reference calendar. It shows blackout dates for email campaigns that B2B marketers, the main clientele of our media-buying agency, should avoid if possible.

The calendar includes national public holidays, the Friday and Tuesday bookends around three-day weekends, and full weeks surrounding the "biggies" of the year—Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas/New Year's.

Some celebrations—like Veterans Day in November or Martin Luther King Day in January—are one-day events that you can easily work around. But we've seen clients lose at least a percentage point in response if they send email blasts during the biggies (compared with other campaigns we've done for them at other times of the quarter and year).

A lot of this is intuitive. Consider how interested you are in marketing messages you receive while you're preparing for a special celebration at home. Or trying to get out of town. Or in somber contemplation on September 11 or Veterans Day.

One period that distracts the nation that we didn't put on our calendar but probably should have: the days leading up to April 15, the annual deadline for filing personal income tax returns. I've read that half of all filers haven't completed their returns by the day before, and I would bet that unless your offer is how to save taxpayers a lot of money... you'll get very little attention no matter what marketing vehicle you're using.

Start with a blank calendar from, or one of the other free calendar sites online. You can use my calendar as a base, if you like, and customize it even further to meet your own, unique considerations.

Event marketers working on city tours can refine it by being sensitive to important ethnic holidays in cities with a preponderance of minorities who will be observing them. And consumer and catalog marketers might want to take this calendar and turn it around, devoting extra budget to marketing the heck out of the blackout dates!

Other factors to consider when customizing your own calendar (to either emphasize or avoid):

  • The end of your prospects' fiscal year or quarter

  • Annual conventions in your industry

  • Seasonal trends in your industry if they apply (first snow, beginning and end of daylight savings, etc.)

  • De facto vacation periods, like Spring Break around Passover and Easter when parents may take vacation

Sometimes, in the final analysis, it makes sense to throw out all these rules of thumb and use a different logic. The end of December, despite the winter holidays, is also the end of many marketers' fiscal year. Sometimes, you have budget at the last minute—and if you don't spend it, you'll lose it. Then you don't care that the timing isn't the best, and you shouldn't.

What can you do if by reason of timing you're forced to market during a low-response period?

  • Send out email blasts twice if you know you're doing one or both at a less-than-optimal time.

  • Send an email plus a postcard or self-mailer in the mail.

  • Advertise online, where people who are working as usual during holiday periods will see your message when they seek out commercial content.

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Lisa Bowen is director and media supervisor at Prospects To Go LLC (, a list brokerage and media-buying service in Oakland, CA.