The Obituary is Our Business

Funeral Industry News Marketing April 2, 2012

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The Obituary is Our Business

As technology in all forms continues to evolve, everything seems to be transitioning to a digital product.  Think about it, even cash seems to be a blast from the past.  I rarely use cash for a transaction, always the debit.  Credit cards scare me.  The newspaper (a very physical product) is still a source of news for millions of Americans, including many of you reading this article.  The beloved Detroit News/ Free Press (NFP), an institution in Metro Detroit for over a century is now down to 3 days home delivery (Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday).  The NFP is still ‘printing’ seven days a week, but clearly in jeopardy as the cost to produce these papers continues to rise, as less subscribe.  Did I mention the cost?  Many of you are shaking your heads in agreement right about now; these obituary costs are getting embarrassing.  Not to mention this cost is appearing on our final contracts.  For generations, funeral directors and the public had relied on the newspaper to tell the community that someone had died.  By shear unavailability, the newspaper obituary as we know is going away.

Ok, enough doom and gloom.  This is actually a good thing for funeral service; we have relied on these institutions for years.  Now it’s our turn.  The newspapers deserve respect, and I think they will continue to play a role in how we communicate.  As much as the newspaper has realized their business model is changing, you should be realizing the same phenomenon.  Many of you are being charged a non-declinable online fee in conjunction with the actual print cost; which is sometimes a surprise.  For many years, the newspaper has relied on funeral directors to be their sales force, creative force, and debt collector, with little or no incentive for our efforts.  It’s the paper’s hopes that the obituary remains a cash advance item as they transition to the web.  I say, the newspaper is secondary to our offerings.

It’s now time that we (funeral service) look at the obituary as our business, especially with the power of the web, its applications, and the potential media partnership opportunities it introduces.  We (funeral service) write and produce this very important piece of history; sometimes at 4pm on a Saturday during your son’s/daughter’s basketball tournament, play, or recital.  Yet, on a monthly basis, many of us are sending large checks to newspapers with nothing in return.  Check your accounts payable ledger and see what you sent in total for 12 months of business with your local paper.  No matter the size of your business, this is probably an impactful dollar amount, right?

Forget for a moment that I am a representative of and slightly biased, just looking at the raw facts, doesn’t the current situation with the print obituary seem like an odd business model?  The good news is you can now reposition your firm(s) to be on the forefront of the obituary business; estimated to generate $785 million dollars annually.    I am not suggesting you stop offering the newspaper death notice to your families during arrangements.  It is still relevant, but the ‘paper notice’ should be positioned after you have discussed ‘your’ obituary services.  Funeral Home obituary products can be better quality, more cost effective, and much more funeral service oriented.  I am also not saying you should be charging $400 for these “obituary services.”  However, I am suggesting that you own this portion of your business and should make it a product of your profession.  Again, technology provides the tools to revamp this portion of your business to better benefit your families and you.

It might also be beneficial to erase the phrase “death notice” from your conversations as well, unless you are describing the shortened version of the obituary that will appear in the paper and with their online media partner.  This approach makes your obituary services instantly more valuable and more technologically advanced, all while still managing the expectations of everyone in the room, including those that see value in the $600 ‘death notice.’

Funeral directors and their staff’s do three things well:  take care of the family, take care of the deceased, and notify the public of the death.  Funeral directors and staff will always be trusted to notify the public that a particular person has died.  We (funeral service) need to continue being the expert in this space; and take measures to own the obituary moving forward.  The internet is your friend; this is how you make the obituary a game changer in arrangements.  Not only is the obituary better in the digital form, it presents an opportunity for funeral service to own a portion of this space on the web.  Most of the time, you can have your obituary products on your site, your partner’s site(s), Facebook, and Twitter 24 to 48 hours ahead of the printed obituary in the newspaper.    This is huge!  Sell this in your arrangement and it will be a hit… me.  Remember, you do this work, the obituary is your work product. Own it.  Feel free to contact me with specific questions regarding the obituary and ‘your’ business.

Take Care,