Stealing a march?

Charles 17 Comments


By Andrew Hickson, proprietor of Kingfisher Independent Funeral Services, St Neots. 


A couple of days ago, Charles asked me to write a blog post about marketing. I wanted to approach this from the point-of-view of a Funeral Director such as myself who has recently established a business, and is therefore dazzled, bemused and somewhat apprehensive of the minefield that is the marketing world. 

Barely a day goes by without some company or other telephoning, claiming they can increase traffic to my website, or wanting me to advertise in their new brochure, or even, as some do, guaranteeing that work will increase if they are contracted to do my marketing. Surprisingly, when they’re asked to put that in writing, they are not quite so forthcoming with their claims. 

I’m still putting an article together, and hope to publish this early in the New Year, but yesterday I was called to remove a gentleman whose GP had certified his death and had already completed the cremation paperwork and left this with him. 

The paperwork had the large stamp of another Funeral Director very clearly on the front page. Two chances of being called then, once by the GP, and once by the next-of-kin. But not a lot of scope for the client to make any informed decisions. 

Clever marketing, or just a wee bit cheeky?


  1. Charles

    That a ‘form 4’ (Doctor’s certificate of medical attendance outlining cause of death to authorize cremation) would have any information whatever of any commercial interest to anyone seems unethical in the extreme, to me.

    That it should, further, take advantage of a bereaved person’s predicament in not knowing whom to call, or for what purpose, for the financial gain of the advertiser must surely be unlawful. Personally, the business in question would be ruled out as an option purely on these grounds; but for most, a phone number could be a lifeline.

  2. Charles

    May I suggest—and I mean this in a friendly, not condescending way—that you stop capitalizing “funeral director”? It’s not a proper noun and every time I see it (which is nearly every day in the US)it strikes me as stuffy self-aggrandizement. You don’t want to project that, I’m certain, but I wanted to let you know how it looks.

    Will wait for your article with anticipation!

  3. Charles

    I’m pleased you added, Josh, the thought that you are not being condescending. The Kingfisher is so clearly not a self-aggrandizing sort of bird, even, I would guess, when he’s in full mourning suit rig.

  4. Charles

    Point taken Josh, thanks. I suppose I do it out of pride in the profession. In Jonathan’s comment above, ‘Doctor’s’ also looks correct to me with a capital D. You’ve got me wondering whether it is or isn’t now

  5. Charles

    Normally each doctor’s surgery would have a supply of ‘Cremation form 1 (replacing Form A)’ forms. The pushy fd in question would have had to schmooze each practice manager of each surgery in turn and lay these ‘personalised’ forms on them for use by their doctors.
    I think the surgeries could easily refuse them.
    I wonder why this surgery did not in this instance? I smell a rat. Or a nice flat screen TV in the waiting room.

  6. Charles

    James, I get asked quite frequently by practice managers at surgeries if I can supply them with any crem papers as the crems, for some reason, don’t like supplying the doctors directly (so I was told). I’ve never known a doctor leave the paperwork with the family though or considered putting a nice big advert for us on the front ( how lax of me!)It’s all a rather distasteful slippery slope though isn’t it?

  7. Charles

    Re Josh’s comment, well taken, KF, because you might have smarted. I almost took those caps off before I published it, but thought it wrong to interfere with you (as it were). Caps are, by and large, a yesteryear thing now. And I think Josh is right about the impression they can create.

    Josh, by the way, is American (as you can tell by his em-dash) and is the exec director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance – he’s the Johnny Depp of death. I’m still feeling slightly starstruck by his appearance in our umble blog.

  8. Charles

    Quite outrageous. One of our local funeral directors who holds the Coroner’s contract hands out business cards when they go to collect … which they are forbidden to do.

    Andrew, I am hopefully planning to carry out some research on the commercial aspect of the funeral profession … if you have any suggestions for focus they would be gratefully received.

  9. Charles

    My local coroner’s contractor hands out cards too. They carry a card for their various trading names. It’s against the rules but no-one seems bothered.

    The big boys only seem to care about keeping as much work as possible – service, ethics, fair play and value are all secondary considerations.

  10. Charles

    If I remember correctly, rumour had it that when a certain large group gained several Coroner’s removal contracts some years ago, the word was that they didn’t leave the ‘usual’ card with the family.

    Instead, they left the family with a consumer survey form, asking if their service had been of an appropriately high standard.

    Naturally, there had to be the name and contact details of the firm, to which the completed form could be returned….

    I guess that the passage of time and a change of ownership has changed all that.

    When we used to ‘do our bit’ on the local Coroners rota, we were scrupulous in not divulging our identity to families – to the point where one family got really upset that I declined to divulge who we were. In the end, the bobby on scene defused the situation by giving the game away!

  11. Charles

    I think we have to be very careful making statements like “they are forbidden to do” and “against the rules” in reference to Coroner’s contracts (and I’m also wondering if Coroner needs a capital C, but can’t decide at all).

    With the secrecy that funeral directors attach to something simple like a price list, how on earth can we expect to know what is contained in a contract between them and someone they supply?

    Funeral directors love to put down any of their competition to anyone who will listen, especially when it involves something like a contract, but most of that is like chinese whispers.

    From personal experience, when I worked for a company which held the coroner’s contract, every other FD in the county was of the opinion that we weren’t allowed to give out cards. In fact we were. We also had a letter signed by the Coroner, on our headed paper, explaining why we were carrying out the removal, that there was absolutely no pressure to use us as funeral directors, but if any assistance was required, we would of course be happy to help.

    On the other side of the coin, as a tiny independent now, of course I hate the fact that the big companies hold the contract. They undoubtedly gain work from it, or they wouldn’t do it would they? But would I want the contract? No way.

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