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Death notice, obituary, online memorial. . . . .which to use

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I recently read an article published online from GoLocalProv.  You can find the article here and it is entitled, “GoLocal now top publisher of obituaries in Rhode Island, 94% of funeral homes partner for “No Cost” obits”.  

It made me think of the differences in what I would call death notices, obituaries, and online memorials.  In my opinion, they are all different and serve different purposes, but I’m not so sure our death care clientele realize that.

Death Notice–  In my opinion a “Death Notice” is akin to the town crier of old announcing a death has occurred.  It tells of the death, gives brief biographical information, and, very importantly, gives details of upcoming services.  Again, in my opinion, the main purpose of a Death Notice is to make the public aware of the death.

For years these notices have appeared in daily newspapers all across America and where daily newspapers do not exist, many communities read them on their local radio stations.  One of the big problems that I see with Death Notices today, is for many people, there is not a centralized outlet to lay them in front of people as daily newspapers so dominantly did.

In my county of about 40,000 people our newspaper publishes only twice weekly.  Depending on the date of death and date of services, sometimes the timing is such that a Death Notice cannot be published prior to the service.

Obituaries–  A death notice, including service information, with much more information packed into it would be an Obituary.  Or an Obituary can be published on a date following the Death Notice and contain that additional information.  In many cases an Obituary is published after services have been held which renders it moot as a Death Notice.

As with Death Notices the main source of distribution has historically been newspapers.  With newspapers losing subscribers Obituaries have also become a source of decreasing readership.

Online Memorials– Online memorials such as those offered by Eppilog or Reflections by OneDay do not, in my opinion, serve the purpose of Death Notices, but they do serve as an additional, and one could say, more dimensional life story than simple Obituaries or Death Notices published either in the newspaper or online.

They have the ability to tell much more of a story and offer a more permanent memorial than an obituary or Death Notice do.

So, how do you counsel your client families in this regard?  All of these — Death Notices, Obituaries, and Online Memorials — can be very important in differing ways.  However, if someone does not know that a death has occurred, they cannot come to the visitation or service.  So, timeliness is very important.

Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

Reach — the ability to have many people know of the death is also extremely important.  Where do we look for general information who has died in a community?  How would I know if my old high school principal died?  Maybe I would see the obituary in the newspaper. . . .but it might be post-funeral because of the timing or, like hundreds of thousands of households, we no longer subscribe to the daily newspaper.  How do we make sure that a Death Notice has “Reach”?

The GoLocal Providence idea for free local ideas is a good one.  However, if they cannot get people to go online everyday, their target market will not know of the deaths.  The strategy from GoLocal is simple, they are trying to increase readership of their website with the free obituary listings.  I don’t know the answer, but if there is not strong readership – however you would define “strong” – that free obituary is worth what you are paying.  It’s kind of the chicken or egg thing. . . which comes first.

There’s no doubt that the driving force behind it is what newspaper obituaries cost.  None of us like that cost on our families and, especially with direct cremation families, it becomes a high percentage of what they pay for overall death care costs.  However, there is also a cost to a free obituary that nobody reads — that includes no visitors for the mourners and no visitors through your funeral home doors.

I’m not trying to take a stand for or against paid newspaper obituaries here.  However, since we have left behind the days where almost all adults had that first cup of coffee with the local newspaper, we have not solved this dilemma.

And, it is not as easy as just using a Google search.  Because if I didn’t know that a person died, why would I be searching his/her name for funeral arrangements?

I don’t think we have solved the “Death Notice” issue that was somewhat easy in the day of large circulation and readership of daily newspapers.  I also think it is imperative that we do solve the issue.  If people don’t know of deaths, they cannot offer condolences to the grieving family.  That would lead to smaller and smaller services that, in many cases, will not give full satisfaction to families.  Which may lead to families having less services the next time a death occurs

It can be a vicious cycle.  But sharing grief is a human experience. . . . .grief shared can be grief diminished. . . .  and that thought of sharing ourselves with grieving families begins with knowing about the death.

Related—  I came upon this article on the Power of Content Syndication put out by Legacy.com.  The sub-title deals somewhat with this article in that it makes the point that obituaries can be a marketing tool — but only if you put them where people are looking.

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3 Comments

  1. Funeral homes must ban together to get their own “death notice” site. This could be done on a local or regional level. It may be a little rough at the start for readership, but people want this type of news and since funeral homes would be invested in it, they could promote it. I did a lot of work for our state association on such a plan but at the time we could not get enough people committed to the idea. Funeral directors need to wake up and realize that placing a paid death notice in an online newspaper is hurting their business. If the newspaper (Legacy.com) offers the information, guestbook, flowers… why does anyone need to go to your website which in so many ways is the front door of the funeral home. Also, don’t be surprised if a big conglomerate or insurance company buys Legacy.com. I am sure that they would love to get their hands on a lot of the data.

  2. With newspaper industry in steep decline, it’s hard to imagine any family paying hundreds of dollars for a death notice or obit. Consumers know the funeral home website obits have replaced the newspaper. Obituaries continue to be the most popular facet of a funeral home website which is why MKJ invested $100,000 to develop the industry standard for obits. The wonderful aspect of funeral business is the public witnesses your work whether its a funeral, visitation or website obituary. That’s why the quality of the on-line obituary is so important.

  3. Tom, this is a big dilemma for all funeral service. For years we allowed the newspaper to take a big advantage of us because “that’s the way works”. Funeral homes were the reporters, the copy editors, the accounts payable clerk and the the accounts receivable clerk when it came to obituaries. And the only compensation we got for all that work that we did for the newspaper was the privilege of having our names listed at the bottom of the obit, which served as a form of advertising for the funeral home. When the cost of obits were small this seemed like a fair trade. But as the cost of obituaries on a typical funeral has risen to over $500 and even thousands of dollars in major newspapers and the readership has drastically dropped, the value of the newspaper obit to the funeral home has come into question. Only time will tell where the new place for death notices finally settles. Supposedly Legacy.com is offering free obits. But if Legacy is the engine behind many of our local newspaper websites how will they justify to their newspaper clients the ability for funeral homes to bypass the newspaper’s paid obit section and post directly to Legacy at no cost. ??????

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