ABC-TV is planning to air a "20/20" television segment on Friday, November 3, dealing with the topic of funeral serice. This information may be presented in a way that reflects negatively on members of the funeral service profession. Here are some steps you can take to make sure that the public and your customers know the truth about you and your business.
1. Get your answers ready. There is no way to determine the specific topics that will be covered on the program; however, preneed fraud, casket pricing and profit, and specific instances of unethical treatment of remains are all topics that may be presented. Think about, then write down, your responses to questions about your preneed program, your casket pricing, and your standard for handling the remains. As an OGR member, you are bound by the standard of conduct on page R2 of the OGR Resource Guide. Quoting these standards to members of the news media will reinforce your commitment to ethical conduct. Emphasizing the value of independent ownership is also important.
If you feel it is necessary, you can place an ad similar to the enclosed prototype in your local newspaper in response to the program.
2. Prepare your staff. Let them know about the TV segment and brief them on how you would like them to respond to questions. Ask that all calls from members of the news media be directed to you or an authorized spokesperson.
3. Watch the "20/20" segment. Take notes, then decide how to counter any negative statements. List the points that were mentioned in the "20/20" segment and your responses to them . For example,
Response: "Our compassionate service, rather than our merchandise, is of most value to the families we serve. Our markup on caskets is not excessive and covers our wholesale costs, overhead, and a modest profit margin. As a member of the International Order of the Golden Rule, our funeral home ascribes to a code of conduct which includes honest pricing and profit margin standards."
4. Talk to reporters. Your local ABC affiliate may decide to do a story based on the "20/20" segment. Be prepared to answer reasonable questions about your operation. Remember that 65 percent of the public take "no comment" as an admission of guilt. You may wish to rephrase questions which you feel are biased.
Example: "Why is everyone in the funeral service industry so corrupt?" "The funeral service profession represents thousands of dedicated, ethical professionals. Some abuse is present in any industry, but this is a very small percentage of the total number of providers." Be friendly and forthcoming. Don't say anything you don't want to be quoted as saying, even "off the record."
5. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, or ask a friend or associate to write one in your behalf. This letter can reinforce the standards to which you adhere and provide a testimonial for your caring service.
6. Write a letter to "20/20." The addeess in 20/20, 147 Columbus Ave., New York, NY 10023.
You can turn a potentially negative situation around and reap some positive benefits.
USEFUL INFORMATION about the funeral industry, chains, suits, other events, etc.:
. . The Loewen Group Inc. chain, headquartered in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, reports having 791 funeral homes and 180 cemeteries, and 10,000 employees. (They have bought several mortuaries in the Phoenix area.) (Memorandum to All Employee Partners in "Sharing the Vision," Nov. 28, 1995.)
. . The memorandum was written to calm fears of employees regarding a $500 million jury award against the corporation in Mississippi in November. The value of their shares in the stock market fell steeply, more than 20 points, after the award.
. . The Loewen Group reported settling the suit for cash and stock valued at $175 million in January. The group said the settlement would cost the company $85 million (U.S.) after taxes. However, in Philadelphia, the Provident American Corporation is seeking $59 million in damages from Loewen. Company executives said that Chapter 11 bankruptcy was a real possibility. (New York Times, Jan. 30, 1996)
(Additional material will be added. In the meantime, see "Document 7 - 15 Categories of Ripoffs.")