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60 Minutes Story on Cemetery Mismanagement Expected in 2011

By Jessica Koth, NFDA public relations manager


In recent months, talk about the television newsmagazine 60 Minutes working on an investigative news story about funeral service has been circulating within the profession. 60 Minutes has not contacted NFDA for comment and has, thus far, refused to comment on whether it is working on such a story.


NFDA staff members have spoken with individuals who have been interviewed by 60 Minutes and, from what NFDA can ascertain, the story, which is likely to air in early 2011, was prompted by the scandal at Burr Oak Cemetery in Chicago, Ill., and will focus on cemetery mismanagement. Based on what we know, funeral homes do not appear to be the target of this investigative news story.

Be assured that NFDA is monitoring developments related to this situation on your behalf and stands prepared to respond to 60 Minutes should the newsmagazine contact NFDA for comment. We also stand prepared to respond to the story once it airs should funeral service be unfairly maligned in any way.

I often hear funeral directors lament the way they are portrayed by the media; I need not go into the list of falsehoods and stereotypes that have been perpetuated over the years and with which we're all familiar.

I review NFDA's news clippings every day and, believe it or not, the picture is pretty positive. Almost all of the media coverage I see about funeral service is good – sometimes it's really good. It's generally fair and free of bias and stereotypes. It's factual information that is helpful to consumers. Even the stories about misdeeds within the profession – cemetery mismanagement, for example – are, by and large, objective accounts.

It's much easier to recall the one negative story that was published than to remember the dozens of positive and accurate ones. It's important to remember that one bad story – or one good story, for that matter – will not make or break your reputation. What makes your reputation is consistently good press; you only need worry if you're the subject of consistently bad press. Funeral service is, by no means, the subject of consistently negative press.

According to the survey on consumer attitudes toward funeral service released by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC) a few months ago, only 13% of survey respondents could recall having seen, read or heard news reports about the funeral profession. Of those who saw, heard or read a news report, 66% thought the story was either positive or neutral.

This same survey also confirmed that the public continues to hold funeral directors in high regard. According to the survey findings, 95% of survey respondents agreed that funeral directors took special care to reflect families' wishes. Nearly 90% would not change anything about their personal experiences with a funeral home and would use the same firm again.

Harris Interactive, the company that conducted the survey on behalf of FAMIC, noted that it's extraordinarily rare for a profession to have approval ratings in the 90th percentile.

Monitoring the way the media cover funeral service is as important to NFDA as it is to you.
Be assured that your national association employs full-time public relations professionals who work with consumer media every day. It's our job, on your behalf, to educate the public about the importance and value of funeral and memorial services and be the media's top resource for accurate information regarding all aspects of funeral service.

When we are contacted by the media, we often find that they don't have all of the facts about the issue they are covering. NFDA's public relations staff, in cooperation with the association's Spokespersons Team, take time to educate the reporter and provide factual information. We are very successful in turning what could be negative stories into accurate ones that provide consumers with the information they need to make educated decisions about funeral planning.

I think everyone is aware that this profession, like all others, isn't 100% scandal free. However, the story of funeral service doesn't begin and end with stories about stolen preneed funds or mishandled human remains.

The vast majority of funeral directors honorably and ethically serve their communities. These stories are the ones we tell the media. We let reporters know about the value of funerals and the important role funeral directors play in helping the bereaved. We dispel myths and stereotypes that persist about the profession and about funerals. Your national association is here for you, monitoring your reputation in the media and proactively working to increase your credibility and that of the profession.