Confessions of a copywriter

December has brought a flurry of calls from funeral directors, many of whom commented on my most recent article in the offline publication, Mortuary Management. Published in December's issue, the article, Making the Most of Your Yellow Page Adaddresses the findings of a recent informal survey I conducted involving funeral home Yellow Page ads. It also offered readers four powerful ways to make your ad more compelling. Others chose to focus on the most recent article I wrote for this newsletter, Reaching for Excellence in 2008.

Either way, the calls always went the same way – and that essential consistency is the focus of this article. After brief introductions, where I asked for their Web site address to gain familiarity with their business during the conversation, this question was sure to be asked: "What does a copywriter do?"

It was quickly followed by this next one: "Why do you want to write for funeral service professionals?"

The questions need answering. I forget that many people are not as connected to words as I am; they often mistake "copywriter" with "copyright" - and mistakenly believe that I am involved in the process of patenting new products. Can't blame them, really; it's an easy mistake to make.

Take an Elevator Ride with Me

Through the years, I've developed what's commonly called an "elevator speech" to share with others; despite the fact that I can't remember the last time I was in an elevator with anyone interested enough to ask me what I did for a living. So, imagine us in a smooth-riding elevator, one where our conversation is not interrupted by unusual, disturbing jerking motions, mechanical groans or too-frequent stops. Go ahead; ask me what I do... and I'll share these 54 words with you:

"I work closely with funeral directors to create compelling informational and sales materials for use in Web sites, brochures, pamphlets, or the Yellow Pages. It is my intention to serve as both a writer and marketing consultant, in order to bring in more leads, maintain strong client family relationships, and ultimately generate more sales."

And, now that you've gotten me started, I'll probably continue with my heartfelt addendum:

"I believe that what funeral homes do is not only necessary, but essentially sacred work. It's unfortunate that people often have a negative view of those who do this work. It is my goals to shift these social perceptions, to make their work understandable, their often deeply-felt motivations of compassion and community service more clearly understood by the general public – one funeral home at a time."

Perhaps at this point you're curious about my motivations, my background. And, maybe this elevator ride has led us to the lobby, and I offer to buy you a cup of coffee. After all, I want to take every opportunity to share what I do – don't we all?

As we sit down at a cozy little table with our espresso and pastry, you ask me the $64,000 question (I'm old enough to remember when that was an almost unbelievable amount of money to win from a game show – maybe you are too):

"Why do you do this work?"

Each of Us Has a Story

If you're a funeral director, I'm sure you get asked that same question; late at night, we often ask ourselves to answer it again. To confirm we've made the right choice, to validate our existence; to prove our worth.

I've given part of the answer in the addendum to my elevator speech. But, my conviction that the role funeral service professionals serve in our society is a sacred and undervalued one is grounded in my academic background and personal experiences:

  • I was born in 1954, and spent the first fourteen years of my life watching the public funerals of world leaders, celebrities and social activists.

  • I spent my teen years living in Iran and traveling throughout the Middle East, the Orient, Asia, and Europe – experiences which taught me the inherent delights of cultural diversity.

  • I'm formally trained as a socio-cultural anthropologist, and have spent the past 25 years studying funeral rites around the world. The variety of beliefs which shape funeral practices is staggering – but they all share the fundamental underpinning of being sacred, however that culture/society defines the term.

  • Part of the job of an anthropologist is to write about what you see; for other anthropologists, but also for those members of the general public interested in your viewpoint. All I've done is to take the essentials of my academic training, and apply them to the field of funeral service in America.

But, none of those things addresses the essential question... Why?

Because I deeply care about what you do.

It's an Uphill Climb

Many of my fellow copywriters question my decision to specialize in writing in this niche. Sometimes, late at night, I do too. I could have focused on the self-help market; the pharmaceutical and nutritional supplement market - even the financial/investing field. All of those are lucrative, and for those writers who want to make money hand-over-fist, those are the areas to go into. But none of them speak to my inner being – none of them make my heart sing, so to speak. And, at my age, I want to do what makes me feel joy.

I keep coming back to that simple fact. And I keep writing for you, despite the warnings of my copywriting peers: "Don't write for people who need to be told why they need your services. You can't afford to educate your market; it takes too much time."

But, isn't that what you have to do, too?

You need to educate consumers about the value of a funeral or memorial service; about the importance of thinking about, and planning for, your own death. American consumers are a savvy bunch - however, they are not often willing to engage in conversation about caskets, urns, or disposition options until they absolutely have to... am I right?

Both of us are faced with a steep uphill climb. And I know one thing - there's no better person to walk up that marketing mountain than someone who has complete respect for, and understanding of, the value of what you do.

My Commitment to You

I've got lots of ideas for articles in the upcoming months, both online here at FuneralWire, and offline in major trade journals. Articles that will help you build a better Web site, publish stronger print ads, and nurture the relationships you've built with the client families you've already served. It is my goal to serve you in thinking about the services you provide, your strengths as a business; your demographics, and your marketing plan. To see your business through the eyes of the consumer, but to stand on your side of the fence; to educate your target market effectively, so they are keenly aware of the value of what you do - and come to you for pre-need and at need services.

Simply put, it's my goal to make 2008 a stunningly successful year, for both of us.