Newspapers realize the enormous value of their obituaries franchise starting with the money at stake — almost $1 billion in revenues, with more to be had.
So how do you determine the size of the opportunity in your market? With over 600,000 paid obituaries processed in 2018, iPublish Media Solutions reveals how to benchmark potential in your market, and help you create marketing that is proven to deliver the type of printed remembrances for loved ones that families are willing to spend more on.
Obituaries are unique in that they are purchased, not sold.
Gains in market share only come from two places: Making it easier for families and funeral directors to buy obituaries, and giving them options such as multiple photos, civic symbols and layout options, and value for their purchases.
Step one is to develop and maintain great relationships with local funeral homes, ensuring funeral directors understand the importance and role of the newspaper in your community as the trusted community record. Do your funeral home partners know of the interest from the community in obituaries content and photos, both in print and online? Often obituaries are the most-read sections of the website. Establish your value, and be sure to ask lots of questions about what funeral directors and families want, such as greater reach using Facebook, or a guide to writing the perfect obituary.
By incorporating the best practices iPublish Media Solutions has developed in partnership with our newspaper customers, you’ll increase the number and size of obituary placements.
Let’s begin with a few steps to start evaluating the overall size of the opportunity in your community:
1. First and foremost it begins with relationships.
Examine all the relationships – where do they need to be strengthened? How can you help strengthen them? Look at
- relationships between the paper and the funeral homes
- relationships between the paper and the community
- relationships between the funeral directors and the families they serve
All of these are important links in the chain to maximizing your obituary success. Publishers must convey the community value of obituaries to funeral directors, and explain how obituaries and related products such as Tributes create opportunities for ongoing communications between funeral directors and family members. Materials such as obituary writing tips & guides can also help with communications between newspapers, funeral directors and families.
2. Don’t assume the market size is what you are already getting.
The second step is to question a common assumption: Just because obituaries remains a successful category for you doesn’t mean you are maximizing the opportunity. Many of the papers we talk to were surprised by the amount of additional revenues they obtained by introducing options like Facebook obituaries and Tributes to their funeral home partners.
The Bay Area News Group was able to grow its annual obituary revenues 60% in 3 years because they left their assumptions at the door and recognized that the families and funeral directors in their community wanted more features, more options and more digital presence for their obituaries. They simply started by reaching out to funeral homes, offering more tools and options, and listening to the feedback.
They launched a self-serve platform, designed and gave out “how to place and obituary” brochures, and other options such as permanent online memorial sites, and the bells and whistles that come with the platform, such as multiple pictures, symbols, and prompts to add key dates like Mother’s Day or a birthday.
Also, have you discussed obituaries with your local crematoriums? Do you provide contact information for your newspaper or a link to your website on a card available at the crematoriums? Not every family goes through funeral homes, particularly the further west your community is located.
3. Identify the number of deaths per year in your DMA.
According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approximately 1% of the population dies every year—a number that stays surprisingly flat but does have local variations. See https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm.
For the most recent local mortality rates in a specific area, check with your state’s Center for Health Statistics. For quicker access, Google “center for health statistics [your state]” to get the correct web address and contact information.
Checking a recent year for example, Mississippi recorded 1,022 deaths per 100,000 people; meeting the national average of about 1%. A city with a population of 2.985 million people will record about 29,850 deaths per year—which means nearly 30,000 families will need obituary and other notification services.
4. Estimate the percentage of families who buy obituaries.
The percentage of families who buy obituaries varies between communities. In general, the number of published obituaries increases towards the east and decreases in the west, typically staying in the range of 30% to 90% of families who experience a death. However, the number of published obituaries is lower in some larger cities with diverse communities that do not have a tradition of placing death notices in the local paper. Is there anything you can do to change that? A good source for statistics on death notices is obitsarchive.com.*
Utah for example, a unique western state with a largely homogeneous community and a tradition of higher than average investment in death notices, has 77% of 31,000 families placing a paid obituary in 2017 (based on estimated 1% death rate and data from the Obitsarchive.com).
The City of Boston, a more diverse community with a population of 685,000, the rate of published obituaries was only 49% or 3,405 notices for 6,863 deaths (based on the same data from 2017).
In Houston the number of published obituaries was just 31% of 23,130 deaths. According to ObitsArchive.com nearly 80% of the 7,306 obituaries were published in The Houston Chronicle.
So how can cities with lower overall percentages of obits being placed compared to the number of people passing away increase that percentage? Have new products such as Facebook obituaries, Online only packages and other unique services and packages.
5. Define the average revenue per order.
Start by calculating your current average placement—the total revenues divided by the total orders. This will be used to better determine the full revenue opportunity.
6. Determine which obit-related options families love.
Ease of placement and pre-calculated pricing alone result in larger placements. As does the ability to add multiple photos, civic and religious symbols, along with being able to easily post remembrances on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays and even Memorial Day. Especially popular with families is the ability to add Lasting Memories—a permanent online memorial website—and Tributes, special print sections for obituaries. Do you offer all of these options? Have you discussed them with your funeral home partners and explained the value to them?
7. Calculate the total market potential.
The total market potential is equal to the number deaths minus the number of orders multiplied by the average revenue per order (# of deaths – # of orders) x (average $ per order). Increase these factors by giving them more options and making it easier for families to buy.
With nearly $1 billion in obituary revenue to be had, these seven easy steps can position newspapers to determine and realize their market’s full revenue potential for obituaries.
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*Source for data used to estimate the percentage of obituaries purchased by families is obitsarchive.com