Blog Archives: October 2014
Circa 1997. Neither of them became undertakers.
Posted by Kitty Perry
When I was a child in the 60s, not a lot happened on 31st October. Casting my mind back and thinking really hard, the only thing I can remember doing is bobbing for apples. Which I did once at a friend’s birthday party. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure that the party was in October.
Fast forward to the 80s. Early one autumn evening the doorbell rang. Three children were standing there wearing cone-shaped hats made from black card.
‘Hello,’ I said, wondering what on earth was going on.
‘Trick or tree-eat?’
I had no idea what they meant.
‘Er, I’ll have a treat – what treats have you got?’
They looked at each other, completely confused. And then went away looking disappointed. Almost as disappointed as me.
By the time I had children of my own I knew a lot more about the traditions of Halloween. Or rather the Halloween that had crossed the pond from the USA: fancy-dress parties, carved pumpkins, green cakes, skull-shaped sweets and half-price offers on bags of fun-size chocolate bars – for the trick-or-treaters. Or as my husband calls them, ‘The spoiled brats who come round wanting something for nothing just as I’m settling down to watch the telly.’ Or words to that effect.
Have we missed our chance to resurrect the Celtic traditions of a night when the ghosts of the dead visit the mortal world? Where are our sacred bonfires and our ghost stories? Is there any hope for a proper ‘Day of the Dead’? Or even a few days of the dead? A time for remembering our ancestors – all of them, not only the ones who died fighting in wars. Culminating in parties and firework displays – incorporation of your dead ones’ ashes would be optional.
Fancy dress? Of course, but not for animals and pets. Sorry Vampire Hedgehog and Freddy Krueger Guinea Pig. You’ll know what I mean if you’re a fan of Bored Panda.
Old traditions combined with new. And, instead of sweets and chocolate, trick-or-treaters would be given fresh locally-sourced produce like turnips and cabbage for delicious home-made soups. And apples for bobbing.
Love and Loss: Poetry at funerals and in bereavement
Sunday 2nd Nov, 8pm
North London Tavern, Kilburn High Road
Tickets £8 through kilburnliteraryfestival.co.uk and on the door
Bereavement can lead people to seek solace in poetry for the first time, or indeed, to express themselves by writing their own poetry for the first time. Discussing and reciting poems written in anger, confusion, sadness or celebration are:
Jack Rooke – stand-up poet and comedian from Watford. Jack is an associate artist of The Roundhouse and a part of Soho Theatre’s Comedy Lab 2014.
Jack hosts the award-winning stand-up poetry night Bang Said The Gun, the poetry/comedy Amphitheatre at Bestival and has created work for The Independent, Cosmopolitan, BBC Radio 1, The Guardian and Channel 4. He is also an ambassador for male suicide prevention charity CALM and curates the ‘Save The Male’ showcases to raise awareness that suicide is the biggest killer of young men in the UK.
Tim Wells – poet
‘London poetry landmark’ – TLS
‘suedehead bard of N16’ – the Guardian
‘bizarre character from the East End’ – The Times
‘a neatly twisted line in rhetoric’ – NME
Catherine Fried – sculptor, writer and authority on the work of her late husband Erich, a best-selling poet in Germany and his native Austria. As a boy of 17, Erich Fried fled the Holocaust for England and settled in Kilburn where he lived and worked for 30 years. Much of his poetry was political. Later he was celebrated for his love poems. He also wrote about death.
Richard Putt – a director of Leverton & Sons. With 42 years’ experience as a dedicated funeral director, he is the ideal barometer of changing funeral traditions and the increasing importance of poetry in the lives of the bereaved.
Audience members will also be invited to recite short poems of their own.
Guest post by Wendy Coulton
Lynda Bellingham’s refreshing openness and honesty about living and dying with cancer has touched many lives but the enduring legacy will be if people take responsibility for their end of life matters.
There have been calls for the Oxo advert to be broadcast this Christmas by way of a tribute to Lynda. Surely a better tribute to this remarkable woman would be to follow her example – discuss and prepare for the inevitable.
Despite pretty much everything else being talked about on social media and reality television, death is still a taboo topic. Lynda was inspirational in the way she spoke, laughed and cried about dying and her decisions regarding the end of her life.
I regularly see families in distress and turmoil because there was no discussion with the person who has died about their wishes and no practical arrangements made regarding funding the funeral related costs. In some instances siblings have fallen out over conflicting views about what their parent would have wanted on fundamental issues like whether it is to be burial or cremation.
And if people feel uncomfortable discussing end of life matters with their nearest and dearest – they can always write it down and let their family know where their instructions or wishes can be found when the time comes.
The organ donation and transplant service has been encouraging registered donors to tell their next of kin whilst they are alive about their wishes because ultimately families can withhold consent and stop donation proceeding.
Personally I think the last act of love I can give to my daughter is peace of mind knowing my wishes because we have talked about it, having a will in place and having finance allocated and easily accessible to pay for funeral costs.
Preparations are well underway for a two day event I am organising in Plymouth called ‘The Elephant in the Room’ in March 2015 with 12 talks and an advice hub all under one roof on a wide range of end of life matters.
Who is Richard Sage? Find out here.
Guest post by James Hardcastle
You cannot be both and nor should you have to be. Communities look to you, as a trusted funeral director, to be supporting them in their time of need whilst planning the unique good-bye for their loved one and not fretting about another problem with your fleet.
Do the BBC run their own canteen? No – they get a catering company in whose core business is just that – catering. The reason they do this is because it’s more cost effective, it’s easier for them and it frees them up to concentrate on their core business and ultimately produces a more professional product at the end.
Recent research conducted by The Carriage Master demonstrated the average cost of running a typical five year old Hearse and one totals an eye-watering £8,018 per annum. Whilst a hearse is used on nearly 100% of all funerals, did you know that an accompanying limousine is often only supplied for 60% of those funerals?
For the average Funeral Director doing less than 56 funerals year, it makes no commercial sense to run your own processional fleet and simply wipes profit straight from your bottom-line. If you’re wanting to run a shiny limousine then the figure is closer to 70 funerals a year – and that’s before you’ve bought the things in the first place.
These are just the raw commercials. What these commercials will not tell you is the hassle-factor and the management time spent dealing with your fleet – the cleaning, administration, legislative and logistical costs are unquantifiable. There’s also the risk associated with running a fleet for hire and reward, which is essentially what you’re doing. If your maintenance plans, service records and driver records are not in tip-top condition, and something goes wrong, then you face, at best, adverse publicity, potential fines and in the very worst cases, a lengthy prison sentence.
So this begs the question, why are most Funeral Directors still hanging on to the well-worn comfort blanket of running their own processional fleet?
It’s the fear of the unknown. Until recently the carriage hire industry had no strategic vision, cause or leadership. What it had was a friendly funeral director in close proximity who hired or a ‘man with cars’ who would see if he could fit you in – but you’d have to rush the mourners through as they had somewhere to be.
This is why The Carriage Master now leads the way within the industry – it provides a cost-effective, tried and trusted proposition to funeral directors who relish the chance to think differently, reduce their business complexity and protect the bottom-line whilst ultimately freeing them to do what they’re good at – funeral directing.
Should you go out and sell your fleet tomorrow? Absolutely not. What you should be doing is thinking strategically, understanding the available options and planning for what successful business growth could look like with some outsourced help from the market leader in Funeral Vehicle Hire.
James Hardcastle is the Managing Director of The Carriage Master. The Carriage Master continues to revolutionise the way in which vehicle hire is delivered to the funeral profession. Their one vehicle, one funeral, one day policy combined with their ‘Always Available’ commitment ensures they are able of offer the largest single rental fleet in the UK.
(T) 0845 450 1884
When Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen was at large on tv’s Changing Rooms, it was not unusual for people to weep when they saw what he’d done to their living room and, through their tears, defiantly declare that, first chance they got, they were going go out and buy 5 litres of brilliant white.
Not all, mind. Some loved the opulence and the clutter.
The same tension between magnificence and minimalism has been evident throughout the history of the British funeral. The time of greatest opulence was between 1400 and 1700, the golden age of the heraldic funeral, supervised by the College of Arms and reserved, of course, for armigerous people, ordinary folk being of no account in those days, not having Russell Brand to speak up for them. The period of greatest minimalism was during the Protectorate, when the Directory of Public Worship (1644) ordained:
When any person departeth this life, let the dead body, upon the day of burial, be decently attended from the house to the place appointed for public burial, and there be immediately interred, without any ceremony.
Cromwell’s own funeral was exceedingly grandiose.
The Puritan funeral has only been surpassed in simplicity by that minimalist newcomer, direct disposal.
The educated and the posh know that the first rule of good taste is restraint. Their fastidiousness is not endorsed by most so-called ‘ordinary people’, who love to put on a good show and, afterwards, festoon a grave with garish, joyous grieving bling. The East End funeral is a good example, the sort of occasion that Bertram Puckle had in mind in his 1926 bestseller, Funeral Customs, Their Origin And Development:
The procession conducting the body to the grave has always offered a welcomed opportunity for the display of pomp, circumstance and ostentatious grief, so prized by the vulgar mind. The average man or woman can claim public attention only at marriage and burial, and on each of these occasions a nonentity becomes the centre of attraction in a ceremonial procession to and from the church.
Not sure if he means the undertaker, the chief griever or the corpse.
We all love a bit of pomp and ceremony even if, for some people (liberals, lefties, intellectual snobs) admitting it is like fessing up that their favourite film is the Sound of Music. Strong men and women of all worldviews have wept at the spectacle of the doggy mascot of the Irish Guards. I know; I am one of them.
And that’s why I deplore the decline of the ‘traditional’ funeral for people who wish, in the spirit of the Irish Guards, to put on the dog for their funerals, but are presently declining to do so either because we, as a culture, are going through another bout of minimalism or, as seems more likely, they are not getting value from our trad, ceremonial funeral. It’s not doing them enough good to justify the expense.
Before we consider the elements of the ceremonial funeral and ask ourselves what we want to keep and what we can repurpose, let’s make sure we understand one thing above all. The modern ceremonial funeral is modelled on the Victorian funeral. And it doesn’t stop there, because the Victorian funeral was a chivalric revival of the medieval heraldic funeral. Our trad funeral has its origins in chapter one of our island story. Are we really going to stand stony-eyed and watch all that go down the pan?
The obsession with the one-off, bespoke, personalised funeral fails to take into account all those who like funerals whose format is a comfortingly familiar and recognisable and which contains a well-written, well-delivered, highly personal eulogy.
Here, then, are some generic elements of ceremonial. Which would you junk and which would keep?
3. Eyecatching (ie, presents a visual spectacle)
5. Creates a fitting sense of occasion
6. Comprises symbolic, non-verbal acts
7. Ritualistic, operating according to arbitrary or arcane rules
8. Incorporating visual, tactile, olfactory, kinetic, auditory and gustatory (food) elements
10. Of minimal utilitarian value
Next, which of the following statements do you agree or disagree with?
1. Funerary ceremonial is a means of preserving historic attitudes and conduct – ‘this is what we think and this is what we do when someone dies’. To reject socially sanctioned ceremonial is not an expression of autonomy, it is an anti-social act.
2. Ceremonial confers legitimacy – ‘if we did not do it this way it would be inauthentic’.
3. Tradition – ie faith in the authority of immemorial beliefs and institutions – is the path to truth – ‘I will only be able to handle this and make sense of it if I stick to the ritual.’ Desired consequences ensue if you do the ritual right.
4. Rejection or absence of ceremonial typifies a culture where institutions and collective beliefs are weak. Tradition dies when social conditions and/or belief systems alter and traditional responses are seen to produce an adverse reaction.
5. A familiar ritual is a means of dealing with something we do not fully understand. We meet the event with such wisdom as we have already assimilated from previous experiences of the ritual
6. A processional funeral is a vehicle which takes you from one mental/emotional state to another. “A good funeral gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be.” – Thomas Lynch
7. Ritual is the best means of bringing people together
“A good funeral is not static. The first great necessity of death is to move the body of the deceased from here to there, that is, from the place of death to the place of final disposition. In most places around the world, and throughout most of human history, carrying the body of the deceased to the grave or the fire or the mountain, weeping or singing, mourning and praying along the way, is not done before the funeral or after the funeral – it is the funeral.” Thomas Long
Guest post by Quokkagirl
When I was no’but a girl, I used to like Friday evenings…..because the man from the Pru used to call. I say the Pru but it could have been any insurance company. I don’t recall the specifics, but it was an insurance man. This was an exciting event because in his previous life he had been a member of a briefly famous Solihull band called the Honeycombs. That was about as exciting as life got…..that and knowing that my cousin’s friend once went out with Helen Shapiro.
This was an entirely normal weekly happening in the 1960s (and earlier) for almost every working class family up and down the country. The man from the Pru would call, mum or dad would give him a shilling or whatever a small sum was in those days (I don’t go back as far as the penny policies). This was a basic life insurance policy in the days when it was important to poorer families to know that they had at least provided enough money for their funeral. It wasn’t yet a working class aspiration to leave property and capital to their children.
Somewhere in the ‘you can have it all’ 70’s, 80’s and 90’s things changed. Insurance policies became more complex, working classes got mortgages with endowment policies attached which would not only pay off the mortgage if you popped your clogs but also leave a bit left over for your funeral expenses with luck.
Then in the noughties it all changed again – endowment policies failed to make their predicted growth and properties began to fail in their growth value. But somewhere along the line, my generation seems to have missed out on the thought processes that our parents had about who is going to pay for the funeral when you peg it. I include myself in this. When I was a young adult I had a small life policy but when mortgages and endowment policies became de rigeur, I found myself swallowed up in the hype and cancelled the old fashioned life policy.
Now we have people all over the country being plunged into funeral debt and many calls on the state to provide funding for funerals, the grants being totally inadequate for the average needs.
Now, clearly I have left it too late to start an old fashioned life policy for myself. I am staring at a life policy plan for the over 50s……or a funeral plan policy – both of which seem to have been designed by, and are the workings of, the anti-Christ. Yes, I have a smidgeon of property value and yes, I have a couple of reasonable pensions all of which will surely cover those expenses in death benefits but finding £3,500 (or even a half deposit as required by many funeral directors) overnight should I or one of mine suddenly peg it, would currently be a lump sum too far.
The alternative is to save of course. Did I hear someone say saving? And snorting with derision? Oh, that must be me then.
It’s almost too late for me. Luckily I wouldn’t want the whole £3500 shebang — a simpler and cheaper affair would suit me and my personality far better — but those of you who are younger should take note of this life-weathered old woman. The truth is, despite corporate hype or whatever the adverts tell you, nothing changes really. The basic rules of life still apply and will never change. You will die one day and someone will have to pay for it….even the basics. So get yourself the simplest and most reasonable little life insurance policy – just to pay for your send off. If anyone can recommend a simple, SIMPLE, honourable and does–what-it-says-on-the-tin-policy, I would be interested to hear about it. As I’m sure would the rest of you.
Find the SunLife Cost of Dying report 2014 here
by Paul Wooldridge
Beneath the darkened upper floors
you smile and wave, left on your own,
with stillness waiting through each door.
Redundant now, your faithful chores,
that once supported fragile bone
beneath the darkened upper floors.
That one is left is nature’s flaw.
The tiring days and nights alone
with stillness waiting through each door.
The silence, that and little more.
Few visitors, a silent phone
beneath the darkened upper floors.
The family home, though once adored,
lies hollow now that kids are grown,
just stillness waiting through each door.
The future, stretching out, is yours,
its emptiness, its constant tone
beneath the darkened upper floors,
with stillness waiting through each door.
Guest post by Mark Sharron
For the second part of this guest post series on SEO for Funeral Directors I’m going to talk about Google Adwords.
Adwords is a Google’s Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising system. Adwords went live in early 2000 and has helped tens of thousands of businesses attract new clients. The system works by allowing business owners to pay to appear in the search index for desirable keywords.
Due to the nature of Adwords this article will be a little dry but I will do my best to supply you with actionable insights into how the system works and a number of useful considerations when setting up a campaign.
* The idea behind Adwords is “the person willing to pay the most for a specific keyword will secure a higher rank.” Business owners bid on keywords (see the previous article).
* Adverts are served for each keyword loaded into the system when a web user performs a search for that keyword. Each time a web user clicks on your advert, your budget is depleted based on the amount you have bid on the keyword vs your competitor’s bid.
* The amount paid per click is equal to the next highest bid. For example if you were to bid £3 per click on the keyword “funeral directors” and your competitor bids £2 for the same keyword you will pay £2.01. There are a few calculations that vary this rule such as your quality score and account history (more on this later).
* Google displays three Adwords spots at the top of the search index for the highest bidders and eight spaces in the right hand column on their first page of search results.
The main advantages (control)
* Gain instant search engine exposure / guaranteed search engine exposure without having to invest the time in an organic SEO campaign. Typically within hours of setting up a campaign you will see an increase in traffic to your website .
* Budget management. Set daily or monthly budgets that suit you. You only pay for each click. Your account is charged each time a web user clicks on one of your adverts. Keyword positions are determined by how much you bid on each keyword vs how much your competitors are prepared to pay.
* Small learning curve. The system is user friendly and easy to master.
* Track and measure performance; see how individual keywords perform. This makes adwords a great market research tool giving you a valuable understanding of what’s important to your clients. You can then configure your website to take advantage of this data.
The main disadvantages
* In competitive towns/cities certain keywords can be expensive to bid on. Larger companies can easily dominate a market space. Be careful not to get into bidding wars.
* If your campaign is poorly setup you will haemorrhage money with little or no return.
* Once your budget is exhausted your adverts disappear.
* PPC is generally less trusted than Google’s organic search by users.
* Campaigns need a lot of attention when first setup to ensure they are configured optimally.
Setting Up Adwords
Campaigns / Adgroups: Once you have completed your initial keyword research, you can load the data into Adwords.
This allows you to tailor advert text to specific groups of keywords making your text more relevant to what a user is searching for. It also gives you the control to direct users to specific landing pages on your site. This will increase the number of people who click on your advert and serve them will relevant information increasing the potential they will convert as a client.
You have three lines of text per basic advert. This doesn’t give you a lot of space to work with.
Line 1= 25 Characters
Link 2= 35 Characters
Line 3= 35 Characters
Line 4= Landing Page URL
The trick is making sure your advert stands out, the text needs to be relevant for specific search terms and the advert should direct web users to a relevant landing page. This ensures prospective clients find what they are looking for and convert. As mentioned above it will also lower your costs as your campaign matures. Have a look at how your competitors/indirect competitors have phrased their adverts and draw inspiration from there. SEMRush.com is a great competitor analysis tool and if you want to learn more about ad-copy “Cashvertising” is an excellent read.
If you are fine tuning your ad text I suggest split testing. Try different adverts and see which ones get the best response.
Adwords Keyword Types
Adwords allows you to enter a variety of keyword types. These have no relation to the types of keywords discussed in my first post. These refer to how the keywords are formatted/how Adwords uses your keyword data to serve adverts. The types of keywords you can enter into Adwords are:
* Exact match
* Broad match
* Broad match modified
* Phrase match
* Negative keywords
One of the most common mistakes business owners make when setting up an Adwords campaign is they use broad match keywords. Your campaign should be a combination of exact match and broad match modified. I will explain the differences below.
Exact match: [Brighton funeral director]
Exact match keywords are placed in square brackets. Adwords will only serve an advert when a user types the exact keyword. This gives you precision control.
Broad match: funeral director Brighton
Broad match keywords are loaded into Adwords in their natural form. Adwords will serve adverts for anything remotely related to the keyword e.g. undertakers Brighton, morticians Brighton or embalming Brighton. This means that your adverts will be served for a range of irrelevant keywords causing you to haemorrhage your budget on keywords which may not be relevant to your business and will not convert. I typically avoid using broad match keywords as it exposes my clients to the law of un-intended consequences.
Broad match modified: +funeral +directors +Brighton
Broad match modified keywords have a “+” symbol next to each word. Broad match modified keywords will serve adverts for any user search that contains each word in any order e.g. Cheap Funeral Directors in Brighton or cheap Brighton funeral directors.
Broad match modified keywords have advantages and disadvantages:
You maintain greater control than if you were to use a broad match keyword.
Your advert will be served for long–tail variants of keywords you may have missed when researching which keywords to use
Adverts will also be served for irrelevant keywords such as a competitor’s brand or general queries with no commercial value e.g. how much do Brighton funeral directors earn?
I use broad match modified keywords for discovery of new opportunities but keep a very close eye on irrelevant keywords served, adding them to my negative keyword list (more on this in a moment).
Phrase match: “funeral directors Brighton”
Phrase match keywords are wrapped in speech marks and will serve an advert if the keyword is part of a larger phrase e.g. cheap funeral directors Brighton. Unlike broad match modified a phrase match keyword will not serve an advert if the words are out of order e.g. cheap Brighton funeral directors.
I typically use phrase match keywords when building negative keyword lists.
One of the most important functions within Adwords is the ability to add a list of negative keywords. Negative keywords are individual words or phrases that prevent an advert from being served.
There is a risk when adding negative keywords you may unintentionally prevent desirable keywords from serving adverts. Always test your “money” keywords still serve adverts after adding new negative keywords to your Adwords campaign.
A good first step when setting up a campaign is to list all of your competitor’s brand names and add them to your negative keyword list. This will ensure users searching specifically for competitors do not click on your adverts/waste your budget.
When a campaign is in its infancy I suggest monitoring Google analytics every couple of days and filtering out keywords that have no commercial value / adding them to your negative keywords list. As the campaign matures and your negative keyword list grows the number of adverts served for undesirable keywords with no commercial value will diminish. Be prepared to lose “some” money at the inception of any PPC campaign until you bring your negative keyword list under control.
Each keyword will be given a quality score. This directly impacts the cost per click. The Adwords quality score is related to the content on the page your advert pointed at and text used in the advert. Click through rate is also a determining factor in cost per click. Over time as your campaign matures, if you have a high click through rate the cost per click (CPC) will be reduced. Spend some time to ensure the quality score for each keyword is as high as possible.
Other Important Settings
GEO Location: Adwords allows you to set the geographic region your adverts will be served in. As a regional funeral director located in Weybridge you don’t want your adverts served in Glasgow. Lock your GEO location down to the area you cover and exclude everything else or you will exhaust your budget quickly.
Display Network: The display network will display your advert on 3rd party websites. Again this is a huge waste of money. Make sure it’s turned off or you will exhaust your budget.
CRT data and Analytics: Make sure your Adwords account is connected to Google Analytics. Google have a guide on how to do this here. This will allow you to track the performance of individual keywords. Including bounce rates, time users spend on your website, which pages they look at and more.
Advert position: Both Adwords and Google Analytics will show you the position adverts are displayed for each keyword giving you the ability to increase or reduce your budget as required.
Bounce rate: tells you if a user has arrived on your site and left immediately. This could mean a specific keyword has no commercial value or your website landing page does not supply an internet user with the information they are looking for. It may be worth thinking about removing keywords with a sustained high bounce rate or reworking the page users first land on to better match the advert / keyword. Alternatively it may simply mean a user is landing on your page and only looking for your phone number. Exercise a little common sense and track the number of phone calls you receive if you remove a keyword as data can sometimes be a little misleading.
PPC keywords: If you are using broad match or broad match modified you can see exactly what users have typed into Google to serve an advert. I suggest turning commercially viable keywords into exact match variants and filtering commercially unviable keywords into your negative keyword list. This will ensure unviable keywords are not served a second time and will free up your budget to focus on keyword that will attract web users to your site that stand a chance of converting to a paying client.
Adwords is an excellent mechanism to drive web users to your website and can work wonders if setup correctly. If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to provide an informative answer within 24 hours.