Tu’umalo Susunga Mālietoa Tanumafili II died on May 11 at 94 years of age.

Maori Television is simulcasting his funeral at 8:30 am on May 19, 2007.  I think that’s Somoa time, so check your watch.

 Malietoa led the country since it achieved independence in 1962.

He led the country to independence and was made Head of State For Life.

In accordance with the country’s constitution, his successor will be elected by the Legislative Assembly to serve for a five year term.

Read the full story here. 

Watch the simulcast by clicking here.


Last week we brought you the first part of a series concerning the use of unsolicited email to promote a funeral home and cemetery.

You can read the Part 1 here.

I’ve interviewed both Robin Richter (the person who received the email) and Sharon Blackburn (the sales counselor who sent the email to dozens of people) and will be bringing those interviews to you tomorrow.

PICTURED ABOVE:  John Winter and his wife Karen, both of whom were
mentioned in the unsolicited email sent by Sharon Blackburn to offer a free
Simplicity Planner to those who had signed the online guestbook for John.

But before I share each side, you should know that I am not a seasoned journalist.  This issue was brought to my attention because of the nature of this website.  Final Embrace is primarily a forum to discuss funeral home marketing and management and as a place for me to share ideas and my own perspective.

When I began investigating this incident, I had no idea the level of complexity involved or the difficulty I would find in trying to present a fair story.  Having sifted through the details of this tale and continuing to gather facts and reactions, I am surprised that journalists are ever able to provide a fair accounting of any story without including their own bias.

Or maybe most journalist DO have an agenda when reporting stories and you ARE getting a biased reporting most of the time.  Hmm…

So, before I give you all the dirty details of this sordid story (don’t the words ‘sordid’ and ‘dirty’ already make you think a certain way?) I’ll let you in on my own take.

I hate subversive pre-need marketing.  I loathe it.  If I had easy access to a better thesaurus, I’d write a few more sentences about my disdain and disgust for subversive pre-need marketing.

Why am I so averse to it?  Because most of it becomes aggressive and predatory.  Pre-need agents and their managers, egged on by corporate bosses who ache to provide higher quarterly numbers to please stockholders, quickly exhaust the three or four reasonable, pleasant ways of generating funeral pre-arrangement plans and soon find themselves tricking or badgering their targets into purchasing burial plans.

Need proof that these tactics are used?  How many chargebacks (cancelled contracts) do you see in a given time period?  In Florida, all arrangements made away from the funeral home are subject to a three-day no-penalty cancellation period. 

When I worked in a large, pre-need focused funeral home, we saw regular chargebacks.  And while these cancellations hurt the prospective client, who had wasted time hearing a sales pitch he/she didn’t want to accept, they also hurt the funeral home in lost productivity because of the paperwork, lowered morale (salespeople are proud folks who take pleasure in closing a deal and take cancellations especially hard) and tarnished public image.

It’s even worse for funeral directors and the staff handling at-need services; they don’t have anything to do with pre-need sales (in most cases) but still have to battle the negative perception of the public regarding predatory funeral pre-need sellers. 

Of course, I’ve spent most of my career serving at-need families, but I also held a state-issued insurance license for a few years and sold funeral pre-arrangements, mostly to walk-in customers, so I understand some of the arguments of the pre-need agent.

However, I use this blog to discuss marketing your funeral home, not selling a bunch of pre-need at the expense of your brand image or the community goodwill that can, in lean times, sustain your business, so I will not recommend you take the same actions that Ms. Blackburn took to tell her community about the importance of pre-planning.

MY OPINION (in 35 words or less):  Ms. Blackburn’s words are misleading.  She interrupted a conversation about grief and tried to sell her pre-planning services.  Robin was right to be upset.  Ms. Blackburn may, in fact, have had good intentions. 

TOMORROW:  An audio interview with Robin Richter and a summary of my non-recorded interview with Sharon Blackburn.

WEDNESDAY:  Reaction from Stowers Funeral Home, the firm that actually handled the arrangements for Mr. Winter.

LATER IN THE WEEK:  The role of the media ( and in pre-need sales.

BONUS:  See the well-made tribute to John Winter hosted by Making Everlasting Memories (owned by SCI/Dignity).