Lords of all they survey

Charles Cowling

We may worry about societal death denial and a consequent tolerance of poor funerals but there’s no denying we’re not, most of us who work in the death zone, much cop at getting society to sit up and take notice of what we think. It’s rare that we come across a serious treatment of death and funerals in the media.

Who’s us? Well, the Good Funeral Guide for starters. I’m useless at playing media tart. By my defiant tone you can easily see that I am making a virtue of a shortcoming. I have no excuse. Is the Natural Death Centre making many waves at the moment? Green fuse? SAIF? SAIF likes to hide its dynamite under a bushel. What about the secular celebrant organisations, the BHA, the IoCF, the AOIC? They are admirably placed to pump out survey results about favourite poems, trends in dress codes, top tunes, that sort of and stuff. If any group needs to demonstrate the emotional value of a funeral it’s them. I’m surprised they don’t do more. And by more I mean anything.

There are some in the death biz who do manage to tickle the fancy of the media. Avalon Funeral Plans recently scored a hit with a survey (it’s always a survey) purporting to show that women reckon themselves past it at 29 while men don’t throw in the towel til they’re 58. Does anyone actually believe this nonsense?

If you’re looking to place a good funeral story, what do the journos look for? The wacky and the scandalous. You’ll never go wrong by underestimating them. Your pitch will fall on deaf ears if you aim high or even medium.

The abysmal Dying Matters recently scored a bit of a hit by proclaiming the results of a Marie Curie survey showing that most men want to die having sex. The story went on to show that actually only 18 per cent of men want to die having sex but hey, let’s not let the truth get in the way of a good headline. Do 18 per cent of men really want to die having sex? It depends how you ask the question, doesn’t it? That’s the knack of running a survey. Skew the questions so you get the answers you want.

The big undertakers don’t like to see themselves in headlines. The only stuff Dignity wants published is in the financial pages where only their shareholders can read it. Big undertakers prefer to pretend to be lots of little undertakers.

Except for the biggest, of course. Co-operative Funeralcare wants us to think it’s ethical and progressive and caring etc. By jingo, we must take off our hats to them. If anyone can dress up old news or no news as new news, it’s Funeralcare. And they’ve done it again. They’ve got a new survey out. It shows that funeral processions are forever being cut in on and sworn at by angry motorists; no one’s got any respect any more . Did you know that? How long have you known it? Here’s a typical account.

The really ingenious thing about this survey is that it’s broken down into regions and it quotes Co-op FDs from everywhere in the country, so the story has hit both the nationals and all the local papers. Fabulous free advertising all conjured up from nothing by cunning PR people. Huge success.

My anxiety is that the Co-op will soon run out of things to survey. If you can think of something for them to do next, please do leave a helpful comment.

As for the rest of us, isn’t it time we got our act together?

23 thoughts on “Lords of all they survey

  1. Charles Cowling
    andrew plume

    Charles – f’care are choc a bloc full of mid management etc etc, so this gives them something extra to pass the day with – note to f’care – if you ditched the vast (unnecessary) layers of middle management, maybe your exhorbitant costs would fall – no chance and I will not start on ‘economies of scale’…………….


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    Jonathan

    Yes, Norfolk Boi, I’m serious. Funeralcare may get financial success out of advertizing, but accounting for disposals is not the message I’m talking about, nor is it my ambition. I’m saying that it doesn’t matter how sweet you smell, you’ll spoil it by pouring your perfume down the sewer of the media and you’ll just smell like all the rest.


    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Norfolk Boi

    “The further we stay from the media the more likely we are to get our message out”

    You can’t be serious? Like or loath Funeracare, they account for nearly 1 in 4 disposals in the UK.

    If advertising/press releases/community activity doesn’t work, why do they spend literally millions of pounds a year on it?

    One thing Funeralcare isn’t is stupid, and it would benefit no one to assume that their marketing strategies are stupid also. SAIF does not have the financial means at its disposal to out advertise Funeralcare, but it costs £299 a year to sign up to surveymonkey (or kwiksurvey is free but contains google ads) and nothing to email SAIF members to ask them to complete the survey. Again, it costs nothing to email the press release round members and ask them to fill in the blanks and forward to local media outlets.

    It’s a shame I can’t call SAIF the author of its own misfortune – it would have to publish something to gain that title.


    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    charles

    Norfolk Boi, I ought to have thanked you for showing us how F-Care conducts a survey. Thank you!


    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    charles

    I think you are right. No one’s getting rich. And many celebrants I speak to reckon things are pretty much okay as they are. Pity.


    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    X.Piry

    Why don’t the celebrant orgs do anything about this? I sadly fear it’s because they don’t have a huge amount of cash.

    By the time they’ve printed leaflets and dealt with things like public liability insurance, I don’t think there’s a huge amount left.

    Could be guessing here and happy to hear others who have more insight.


    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    charles

    CB, are you still there? How much would it cost to conduct XP’s poll


    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling
    charles

    Quite so, CB. Are you prepared to loan us some of your PR skills? We can talk about this and strategise.

    As to funerals, this is something I put to a convention of celebrants a few weeks ago. They have a vested interest in demonstrating the emotional value of a funeral as an event which can be transformative of grief. Why do the celebrant orgs do nothing about this?? It baffles me, it really does. (Just as those celebrants who do ten a week baffle me — and more.)


    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling
    Comfort Blanket

    I think the answer lies in your last sentence Charles “get our ACT together”. Yes – we could try to get some good PR going (I’m happy to have a go at that!) but in addition to words, we have to show people how funerals could be. Because even if they read about it, it still doesn’t quite register with people. You know what it’s like when people come up to you after a service and say “Gosh, that wasn’t at all what I expected etc…” They have to see to understand. Maybe that means putting videos together (like the wonderful Angeline. But I think that’s the way to really hit home.


    Charles Cowling
  10. Charles Cowling
    charles

    I have already sold my house, Kingfisher. And the clothes I stand up in. And, yes, you’re right: journalists have an opp to write much more usefully, and were they to do so the good guys would be greatly boosted to the benefit of consumers — win win. If we could just club together to employ a PR…?


    Charles Cowling
  11. Charles Cowling
    Kingfisher

    In all seriousness, we indys (indies?) do need some way of uniting and counteracting the big boys’ advertising. I’m not convinced by Jonathan’s argument that “the further we stay from the media the more likely we are to get our message out…”

    From my own minimal experience, every time I get a press release out, the website hits go up and the enquiries come in, so I can only assume that the biggies are of the same opinion. Otherwise they wouldn’t bother doing it would they?

    But, as Charles rightly asks, what does the trade association do?

    A GFG mass advert? Would you mind selling your house Charles?


    Charles Cowling
  12. Charles Cowling
    charles

    Here’s a good example of the moronic nature of the press. It was in yesterday’s Daily Mail. How long, for heaven’s sake, have we been webcasting funerals in this country?? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1373532/The-internet-funeral-Webcast-crematorium-allow-relatives-watch-service-online.html


    Charles Cowling
  13. Charles Cowling
    charles

    Why can’t SAIF do anything?


    Charles Cowling
  14. Charles Cowling
    Norfolk Boi

    For this ‘survey’ the Coop just asked their own staff in their weekly bulletin. Undeterred by the fact that hardly anyone replied the first time round they kept asking until they got what they wanted from the staff.

    Once phase 1 was over they packaged the press release and attached it to the next bulletin with instructions for each area to target their local press.

    Simple really. Why cant SAIF do that?


    Charles Cowling
  15. Charles Cowling
    charles

    We need a philanthropist, Jon. Someone to fund this sort of stuff. Know anyone rich?!


    Charles Cowling
  16. Charles Cowling
    Jon Underwood

    Thank you Charles. These are galvanising words.


    Charles Cowling
  17. Charles Cowling
    Kingfisher

    Yes indeed X.Piry, and it matters not one bit whether the business is no longer the “family” company it was last time they used it. It’s so sad that this is the way the funeral profession is going, and even sadder that families are having terrible funeral experiences because of this.


    Charles Cowling
  18. Charles Cowling
    Charles Cowling

    What a very good suggestion, XP. Brilliant. Anybody?


    Charles Cowling
  19. Charles Cowling
    X.Piry

    How about a “how many funeral directors do you talk to before chosing which one (if any) to use” survey?

    No, I can’t see anyone funding it, either, but I wonder how many people actually think about choice in this matter, or simply use the one that their family has always used?


    Charles Cowling
  20. Charles Cowling
    Kingfisher

    How about a Cock-Up Survey? I have a little black book which could get it going *snigger* (although in all honesty I’m very sad that a cock-up survey should even spring to mind. As Tim so rightly says, we only get one chance at getting it right, and it’s so sad that there are families having bad funeral experiences).


    Charles Cowling
  21. Charles Cowling
    charles

    Very good to hear from you, Tim. It’s always nice when readers out themselves!

    Jonathan, these are beautiful and poetic words (nothing new there) which I am tempted to believe since they accord so closely with what I think. Thank you.

    Er, any fresh ideas for future Co-op ‘surveys’?


    Charles Cowling
  22. Charles Cowling
    Tim Heard

    Decided it is time to contribute! I took a strategic decision to stop being in church ministry (they were harassing me in a most unseemly fashion!) and make sure that anyone could get hold of a first class funeral ceremony for their nearest and/or dearest.

    I have made a totally non-lucrative business out of making sure that people face up to doing the job properly. That includes putting up with me in their living room, drinking their tea and pursuing awkward questions about where mum and dad met and such like. In short, I tell them that they only get one shot at the funeral – there is no dress rehearal and no retake.

    Usually I manage to frighten them into doing it right!!!


    Charles Cowling
  23. Charles Cowling
    Jonathan

    As you succinctly point out, Charles, getting our act together is not about getting into the papers, or we’d just attract post-mortem toursits who want a wacky or trendy, or even simply different, funeral without noticing the reality behind what’s printed next to the naked lady on page 3, and we’d end up playing to an audience who are looking the other way. The further we stay away from the media, the more likely we are to get our message out there where it belongs. The question is, how?

    The FuneralDon’tCare crowd can get all the business they want by spending money on trashy glitter to sell crap – that’s how advertizing works. But I saw a film last night called Garbage Warrior, about Mike Reynolds’ Earth Ships, and he said: “If you make something that’s truly beautiful, which people actually need, you’ll attract them to you somehow.” (Or words to similar effect).

    Truth will out. But we’ll only impede its outing by shouting.


    Charles Cowling

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