Want to get angry this morning?  Read a post called “The death merchants scam you to the very end” on the blog, Pam’s House Blend.

The comments (ten of them, so far) are quite revealing.  Also on my list of recommended reading is the article Pam references.

Titled “R.I.P. Off,” the article by Barry Yeoman is featured on the AARP website.  That means it’ll be read by LOTS of seniors.

You know, the very people who are statistically more likely to use your services than the under-40 crowd.

Yeoman chronicles the pre-need scandal surrounding Forest Hill in Memphis, Tennessee.  And while the story there is especially heart-breaking, the article uses the illegal acts of a cemetery owner to cast suspicion on and hurl insults at the entire industry.

It takes just four paragraphs for a quote from the Funeral Consumers Alliance to indicate a growing problem with pre-need.  Of course, this comes right after the writer acknowledges that “most funeral directors operate honestly.” 

It isn’t until the tenth paragraph that Yeoman admits that “For many customers, their pre-need money is safe.”  He then incorrectly refers to a “casket bait and switch” when he tries to suggest that funeral homes offer lesser caskets when the one provided for in the contract is no longer available.

To run a “proper” bait and switch, you have to be “fishing” in the first place.  How many pre-need sellers are excitedly playing the game of selling a certain casket (which they have to provide under the contract, if available from the manufacturer) with the hope that Mrs. Smith lives long enough to switch it out with a casket costing a few hundred dollars less?

In Florida, funeral homes are required to provide a casket of equal or greater value when the original model is not available.  And since designs of caskets change with public tastes and the times, the maddening reality is that many funeral professionals have to walk families through the choice of a different casket, which negates the whole concept of pre-planning.

In fact, it opens the firm up to a lot of issues, especially when the family can’t agree on which casket to choose or wants to downgrade the casket selection and receive a refund.

For Mr. Yeoman to suggest that funeral professionals will risk client satisfaction to possibly make a few hundred dollars in fifteen or twenty years is ludicrous.  But it’s obvious from reading the article that his intentions are to create a very specific, negative opinion of funeral service.

The final six paragraphs revisit the story of Forest Hill, with sentences meant to tug at the reader’s heart strings.  Unfortunately, the sentence that details how the state of Tennessee has taken over the cemetery and is fulfilling ALL the contracts is followed up with a comment that it “doesn’t help people like Donna VanDyke Tacker, who is out the extra $5,440 she paid to a different funeral home.”

After reading the article, I conclude that Mr. Yeoman had an opinion before he started writing the story.  Like many writers, he used this preconceived shortcut to finish the task as quickly as possible (remember, freelancers get paid by the piece, not by the hour). 

How can I make this claim?  Because Mr. Yeoman acknowledges that the majority of funeral professionals are upstanding folks who do the job right and don’t cheat people.  Then he goes to the most vocal critics of the industry for outrageous quotes. 

Worse still, the few nice words he can muster are overshadowed by the vast amount of negative and inflammatory rhetoric that, in his haste to finish an article, he falls back on.  Here’s just a small sampling of the words and phrases that prejudice the reader against the topic being discussed:

staggering announcement
growing national scandal
too widespread to ignore
delusion
distressed families
outraged
abuses
dangers of pre-need
gobbling up
aggressive marketing tactics
surprise at the worst moment
outright fraud
mounting evidence of widespread abuse
vast power of the funeral industry
reeling
Forest Hill demanded
countless other pre-need victims

Mr. Yeoman finishes the article with an effective quote from Carl Brewer, who paid extra money to Forest Hill to bury his wife:

“They get people in their moments of sorrow, when they can’t think straight,” he (Brewer) says. “That is highway robbery without a gun.”

The artilce ends without acknowledging that Tennessee “plans to refund the additional fees Smart demanded from his customers.”

Like I have said on numerous occasions (and sometimes in my sleep), someone is educating your community.  In this case, it’s a very good writer (with a bias) and a national publication.

What steps can you take to let your community that this kind of limited scandal isn’t happening at your firm?

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