Iowa Funeral Home Offering High-Tech Obits… On Electronic Billboards?

October 22, 2009
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DES MOINES, Iowa – A Des Moines funeral home is giving people one last chance to have their name in lights.

Iles Funeral Home is going high-tech with its funeral announcements, putting them on electronic billboards around the city.

John Wild, the general manager for Iles, compared it to the posting of funeral announcements at shops and post offices in rural communities where the business has funeral homes.

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“That’s how we get the word out about visitations and services in those communities and when we were approached about using electronic billboards, we thought it would be a good way to do the same thing here in Des Moines,” Wild said.

Jessica Koth, spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association in Brookfield, Wis., said it’s the first time she’s heard of a funeral home displaying service information on a billboard.

“My initial reaction was ‘Wow, this is something unique,”‘ Koth said. “It’s something different and special.”

Wild was approached by Clear Channel Outdoors, which provides the digital billboards, about advertising Iles Funeral Home on the signs. Instead, Wild decided to use the billboards to let the public know about visitations and funeral services.

“I thought it was forward thinking and innovative,” said Tim Jameson, president of the Des Moines division of Clear Channel Outdoor.

The digital announcements, which appear on five billboards around Des Moines, last about 8 seconds. Announcements can flash the person’s name, picture and service details as well as the funeral home’s Web site.

“That way people can log in when they get home for the full obituary,” Wild said.

The announcement rotates with other ads and there is no additional cost to the family.

Koth said the national group will monitor the billboard use to see how the program works.

“We make a number of recommendations to our members and this certainly might become one of them,” Koth said.

She acknowledged concerns that the billboards could be a distraction, particularly if someone spots the name of a friend or acquaintance without knowing about it beforehand.

Wild said he has not received any negative comments about the billboards.

“We’ve had people talk about the billboards at visitations and how it was nice and an honor to the person,” he said. “But we understand it’s not for everybody and that’s why we ask the family first.”

Jameson said he doesn’t think the billboards, which have displayed funeral information for a few months, are a distraction.

“The ad is for people who normally wouldn’t be reached,” he said. “It’s no different that getting a text message or e-mail on your phone while you’re driving down the road that somebody has died.”

Both Koth and Wild said advancements in technology can help the funeral industry better serve customers.

“This is certainly a step forward,” Koth said. “When you do anything new someone has to take that first step, but it is something new, something different and it’s providing a service to the community.”

Wild said technology has helped with personalizing services with video tributes and use of iPods for music.

“The next thing we’re looking at is the ability to Web cast services,” Wild said. “You can’t predict what innovations or technology will bring.”

Source: Chicago Tribune

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