Profits Through Publicity

Date Published: 
September, 1940
Original Author: 
Earl M. McBride
Forest Lawn, Youngstown, OH
Original Publication: 
1940-1941 Cemetery Handbook & Buyers' Guide

The definition of publicity that I like best is given in The Second Edition of Webster's New International Dictionary. It is as follows: "Any action or any matter spoken, written or printed which secures public attention; also the attention so gained". Therefore it is very evident to me that publicity in connection with any project is most important and especially if one is to secure profits through this publicity. Profits as well as losses can come from this source. Due to the very nature of our business which in my opinion borders on the sacred, it is very important to guard against the wrong kind of publicity. There is another reason too that the cemetery industry should be especially careful of its publicity and that is because of the unfavorable publicity that has been widespread through the nation from various sources known to most of us.

Let us analyze and see what the best type of publicity for our industry is. In my opinion it should be that publicity that creates good will for your enterprise. This, of course, can be printed publicity, and in my opinion this is the best type because it reaches more people, or it can be through the acts and actions of your organization. To me it seems that this type is effective because generally personal contact in some manner is necessary and results definitely in sales which mean profits to the organiza¬tion if it is properly handled. Then, of course, there is the radio which is very popular and effective just now, and also there are the various types of memorial services to be held on the property that have an appeal to others.

Let's see which is the best way to secure the various types of publicity; first, the printed type can be had effectively through newspaper adver¬tising, direct mail advertising, and news items. I prefer the latter because it is read by more people and does not smack of advertising. Then, of course, it can be secured through the use of booklets, circulars and all types of literature. The second type can be had through personal contact of your organization in executing the various services in connection with their work. This is especially effective when done at the property at the time of interments.

Third - Radio - I like radio publicity very much although great care should be given this type of advertising by the person in charge because today radio programs to be effective must be well done and executed only by people who are expert in their line whether it be musical or vocal. To me nothing creates a poorer impression than a radio program badly done by amateurs to the extent that it is at least uninteresting. It is my belief that a radio program should not be too long. A minute or so to talk about the thing you wish to publicize, a few minutes of diversion that will hold the interest of your public and then another spot, very short, giving more details of your commodity or service.

Fourth - There is however another type of publicity that in my opinion is very good. That is memorial services of various types that can be participated in by the public such as religious sunrise services on Easter Sunday morning; memorial services by the various military organizations on Decoration Day; various types of memorial services other than these two and especially those held during the holidays, such as Thanks¬giving and Christmas services. The various features in the cemetery such as the chapel and musical devices are very important in connection with the holding of these services. These features can be called to the attention of the public by their use on these particular occasions rather than publicly pointing them out to the individuals. Along this line can also be services conducted by garden clubs, the art departments of the large stores, and also the public schools.

It is my opinion that all publicity should be handled by a person well qualified for the work as it is especially important that only the right type of publicity come to the public attention. This person of course should know every phase of the business so that only publicity of the proper character should go forward. This covers many angles. First it should be of a character representative of the commodity to be publicized. In our business especially it should be dignified, sympathetic and sincere with an appeal to the public that would create a desire for your services. It should be honest and contain no misleading or half-truth statements designed to create the wrong impression. Great care should be given in order to guard against illegal or fraudulent statements which might result in bad publicity and great loss to your particular property and the entire industry has in my opinion unfavorable publicity in connection with any project which is a reflection against the entire business.

It is my opinion that the cemetery business has resulted almost entirely in the sale of service while the property itself is only incidental to the complete service. In all publicity it is my suggestion that service be stressed more than anything else. The attention of the public should be called to the fact that the cemetery organization is only a service organi¬zation caring for that obligation of your clients that it is impossible for them to perform for themselves. If this service is rendered sincerely, honestly, efficiently, and proper provision made for all of the years to come, and properly publicized so that there is no question in the minds of your clients that this service will continue through all time, certainly nothing but profit can result from publicity. Of course to secure the best results from any of this publicity it is necessary to have a follow-up system that will result in personal contact between your organization and the public so that sales of your services may be consummated.

MR. McBRIDE: I have attempted to cover just in a general way different pieces of publicity that have been profitable to us and other organizations I know. I didn't go into detail at all in this short paper.

CHAIRMAN HATTEN: Mr. McBride, would you say a word about publicity at the property at the time of interment?

MR. McBRIDE: I mean by that, Mr. Hatten, the actions of your organi¬zation in handling not only the interment itself but the people that attend the services. It is not what you would call advertising, but in my opinion the result of those actions at that particular time is publicity in a subtle manner, however, but it is very effective. It creates and breeds good-will for your cemetery and certainly, if properly done, leaves a favorable impression that later on results in business. That is what I meant by that. That can extend from the lowest employee in your organization to the top of your organization. One bad move can result in bad friends to your organization. Our particular type of cemetery is non-monument. It is now, and we are the only non-monument organization in our territory, and we feel that we cannot afford to have any unfavorable actions by any of our organization or employees so that unfavorable publicity or bad feeling might be created.

MR. L. S. WRIGHT (Buffalo): You mentioned those who attend the service. Do you refer to those who are the family?

MR. McBRIDE: I mean those who attend the service on behalf of the ¬bereaved; in other words, the people that attend the funerals. We try to give those people as much attention as anybody else. After all, they come to the cemetery to attend the interment of some friend but nevertheless if we can create the impression for Forest Lawn that they might like to come there eventually, we feel that is good publicity.

MR. CHESTER SPARKS (Philadelphia): What do you mean by giving them attention early?

MR. McBRIDE: Courteous attention. In our chapel about 60 percent of our services, Chester, are conducted. We try to provide people in our organization who can usher them to their seats and be very courteous to them and we provide a lot of little things in the family room for the family and their friends, so that they will remember us. I don't mean we pass out literature or anything of that sort, just personal courtesies.

MR. SPARKS: I think by just the personal attention to the family and their relatives and the people who attend the services that later on contacts can be made in those things you have in mind giving to them. In other words; as Dr. Halberstadt's postal card, it provides a door opener.

MR. REX KEIFFER (Zanesville, Ohio): Mr. McBride, on that 60 percent of your chapel services do you hold your committals there to?

MR. McBRIDE: Very often, Rex. Our plan is that the services are held in the chapel, and most all of the people including the family attend and the undertaker leaves unless the family wants to leave someone and from there on our organization takes the casket to the grave and makes the interment. Occasionally - I would say half the time - the family will leave someone of their group there to see that the inter¬ment is finally made, but half the time that doesn't even happen.

MR. WM. A. HOEFGEN (Indianapolis): Who do you charge for that chapel service?

MR. McBRIDE: Nobody. Our service charge is $25.00 and it includes either the tent service at the grave or the chapel.

MR. HOEFGEN: Do you always furnish the tent?

MR. McBRIDE: We furnish the tent at the grave, but we do not furnish the tent where the chapel service is held.

MR. E. C. HINDS (Memphis): Mr. McBride, would you say it would do any good or build good-will to have a card on the chapel tent to say "Service by J. T. Henton and Son."

MR. McBRIDE: You mean the undertaker's name? We provide our own tents.

MR. HINDS: I mean to say "Service by Henton and Sons" or what¬ever the case might be. I never tried it.

MR. McBRIDE: As the man on the program this morning said he didn't want to be in the cemetery end and he didn't want the cemetery people in the undertaking business. I feel any advertising or publicity to be done by the cemetery should be done in behalf of the cemetery. That is the reason we provide our own tents, and on it we mention the words "Forest lawn."

MR. HINDS: I do that, too.

MR. McBRIDE: At least we try to be courteous to the undertaker and do everything we can for him. I know that has never extended to the extent of advertising for any of them on our property.

MR. HINDS: A member came in, named Bowen, and said, "Mr. Hinds, I would like to compliment you on your service. We had ice water here.” It was a very hot day and he was evidently thirsty and got the service. The children were crying for water. He sent an agent and complimented me. I didn't ask him whether he had a lot, but I sold him a $350 lot because we had the ice water in the cemetery.

MR. McBRIDE: The particular kind of publicity that the various people feel is the best is the kind that works for them. Dr. Halberstadt's system, of course, is marvelous. There is no question about it. You have gotten a sale out of personal service at the cemetery. I think all of those things are important and if properly done can result in profits to the organization.

MR. COWAN (Chicago): I understand you have a very beautiful electric fountain in your park. Have you had any publicity out of it and, can you trace any direct sales to it?

MR. McBRIDE: Leonard, our system of selling never has provided that information. We have been very lax in that a plan whereby we can trace direct sales to any of our various features has never been worked out. I do know that when we were more active than we are now and would advertise our musical concerts on Sunday afternoons or in the evening, great numbers of people would come. In fact, they do now, even without our advertising them and it has created a lot of interest and good-will for the cemetery, and I am sure it has resulted in sales. I can't tell you how many or what percent or what they have cost. It has created a lot of interest favorably and we think it has definitely resulted in some sales.

MR. W. H. YELLAND (Norwalk, Conn.): Don't you think the least advertising that is done, especially of an obstructive nature at the time of interment, the more it would add to the dignity and general fine impression of the whole thing?
MR. McBRIDE: Very much so. It must be done in a manner that isn't offensive. In fact, it should be done without anybody knowing it is done. If they feel it is advertising or sales effort, in my opinion the benefit is lost. In fact, I think I said it must be sympathetic, efficient, and well done and not too commercial.

MR. YELLAND: You wouldn't think it would be nice to put a card on a tent saying Mr. So-and-so supplies the flowers?

MR. McBRIDE: We wouldn't do it.

MR. HINDS: I never did either. I have just heard people talking about it.

MR. CLARENCE SANGER (Detroit): Earl, I would like to ask if you have ever had any reaction from the funeral directors because of the name of your cemetery on your tents.

MR. McBRIDE: No, we haven't. We purchased our tents early in the game because we didn't know much about it and we thought that was the part of the equipment that we should furnish. We found later on that some of the undertakers, a very small percentage of them, had their own tents, and we were glad that we were able to supply them or had supplied them. I don't believe we have ever had a kickback on that.

MR. SANGER: For your information, we have watched that pretty carefully and we used to have the name of our park on our chapel tents and we never had any serious kickback, but we would occasionally hear whispering among the people, and once a funeral director discussed it with us. We felt it was better to take it off, because the value as an adver¬tising feature is very small, and we felt there was a slight reaction.

MR. McBRIDE: When we bought our equipment, as I said before, we were very ignorant about the whole thing. I think Mr. Vale suggested the name "Forest Lawn" be on the equipment, and that is the reason it was on there. It wasn't put there with any thought at that time of advertising even our property, but I feel that is much better than anybody else's name on there.

MR. R. D. ROSENBERGER (New Castle, PA): Earl, have you ever had the experience of having the undertakers charge for your tent service?

MR. McBRIDE: No, we haven't, Ross. We have never inquired. I wouldn't say we have never had the experience. We never knowingly have had that experience. We try to conduct our business and that part of the business of the interment, - that is ours directly with the individual. We break over at times and conduct it through the undertaker. We make no effort to find out what he charges or what his charges are for. I am sure we have never known about his charging for that service we provide, Ross. It might be done, but I am sure we haven't known of it.

MR. E. O. WORK (Clinton, Iowa): I just wanted to mention that, but he got up ahead of me. We have had scores of those cases where the people pay the undertaker and come and tell us what a fine service the undertaker provided at the cemetery with carpets and tents. We have had quite a time knocking that down and if you haven't looked into it, maybe many of you fellows are furnishing this and the undertaker getting the credit.

MR. McBRIDE: As I say, Mr. Work, most of our business is con¬ducted at that time directly with the family or some representative of the family, and we call their attention to the things we furnish.

CHAIRMAN HATTEN: How do you bring that about?

MR. McBRIDE: It is all done, Roy, by our superintendent who is a very diplomatic man. I think Dr. Halberstadt knows him and knows he was cut out for the job.

MR. WORK: Does the undertaker have a flat charge, including ceme¬tery charges that include in their price $12.00 or $15.00 for full tent service and charge your people the same price you furnish the tent for?

MR. McBRIDE: It might be. I have never inquired about their charge.

MR. ROSENBERGER: Do you think you get credit for providing the tent?

MR. McBRIDE: Probably not, but I know we get credit whether or not they like the service they get at Forest Lawn. I know the cemetery gets a lot of benefit from that. If they are badly handled and something offensive occurs, we get blamed for it. On the other hand, we get a lot of credit for the manner in which our interment services are conducted by our people, and that is more definitely brought to the attention of the people in the chapel service than it is in the tent service.

MR. L. S. WRIGHT (Buffalo): Mr. McBride, if the Association at the time of interment would issue an opening and closing order which would prescribe the entire service, including the cost, wouldn't those who arrange for such service know what they were purchasing?

MR. McBRIDE: I would think so.

MR. WRIGHT: That is the way we do.

MR. McBRIDE: For every service there is an order signed. Now we haven't gone to the extent that you have suggested, in other words, of detailing it. We haven't gone to that extent on our order blanks.

MR. CLARENCE SANGER (Detroit): I would like to ask you, Earl, what has been your experience or observation with respect to your chapel service as it is accepted by the public? Do they seem to appreciate the chapel service over the graveside service?

MR. McBRIDE: The ones that use it, yes, Clarence. In fact, the only trouble, and it is not anything serious, that we run into is having them have the service in the chapel. The reaction after it is done is very good, we find. Now most of that reaction comes from the fact that it is new, from the fact that somebody in connection with the interment feels that somebody else is trying to take something away from them, but the people themselves after they have had that sort of service, I would say almost invariably, like it and talk about it and feel good about it and remember Forest Lawn for it.

MR. SANGER: That has been our experience. If I may just take a minute Roy; in my talk this morning I mentioned our big mausoleum as not being finished yet and several in the audience got the impression that I was inclined to feel that I regretted that we built our mausoleum. I want to correct that impression. Our experience has been that it has been worth doubly all and any grief we have had with it. I have been always keen for a chapel or mausoleum where we could hold indoor services, especially in this northern climate.

MR. McBRIDE: We have felt at times maybe we spent too much money on our chapel. If we had done it purely from a commercial stand¬point maybe we did, but I am sure over the period of years we will find it has proven a good job.

MR. SANGER: We have several funeral tents, and a time or two in a small town cemetery where they had no tents and a nice family to be buried; we have permitted the Funeral Director to use our tents without charge. We have also loaned them out to small nearby towns on days like the Fourth of July, where they wanted to use them perhaps for a Red Cross emergency tent, or the Boy Scouts wanted to use them, or something of that kind. We have loaned them out in this case, not to the funeral directors but to the officers of the town or the chief of police and there has been quite a lot of good come from it. Where they haven't, this equipment, it has been loaned by White Chapel.

From the publication:
“1940-1941 Cemetery Handbook & Buyers’ Guide”
ACOA 11th Annual Convention & Exposition
Hotel Statler, Buffalo, New York
September 8-11, 1940