In late 1998, Batesville Casket Company hired Northlich Public Relations to help combat the negative corporate reputation in the eyes of their most important customers, the independent funeral director. The issue arose out of national funeral home chains buying independent funeral homes at an accelerating pace, leaving the remaining truly independent funeral homes feeling at a disadvantage. Batesville in turn suffered a backlash from the independent funeral home, their largest customer segment, because Batesville continued to do business with the national chains. Northlich Public Relations helped Batesville repair their relationship with funeral homes and improve relations with trade media.
Not only did Batesville continue its business with the national funeral home chains, but the company also offered them a product discount for the higher volume orders. While this made perfect business sense, it further fueled the independent funeral director’s anger towards Batesville. As a result, Batesville suffered from extensive negative trade media coverage. Additionally, some independent funeral directors chose to discontinue business with Batesville and some even attempted a coordinated boycott.
Repair the damage to Batesville’s relationship with the funeral director and promote the value of a meaningful funeral among consumers.
  • Modify how Batesville communicates with independent funeral directors and trade media.
  • Help independents feel empowered to compete in a constantly changing environment.
  • Increase the value for consumers of a full-service funeral.
  • Create consumer demand for Batesville products.
  • Implement an issues management program for all points of customer contact.
  • Develop a proactive approach to trade media.
  • Help independents feel empowered to win through value-added programs.
  • Develop “meaningful funeral ceremonies” marketing tools including a press kit and VNR for consumer media outreach.
Measures used to evaluate the success of the program included both qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative measures included initially, the number of balanced stories in trade media and eventually, the number of consumer media stories. The effectiveness of the program was also analyzed using qualitative measures such as the reputation of Batesville among independent funeral directors following implementation.
There was a drop off in negative trade media coverage throughout 1999 and 2000. Additionally, we saw an increased number of neutral to positive trade media coverage in the stories they did cover. For example, the June 1999 issue of Deathcare Business Advisor ran the headline, “For Batesville, a New Way of Working with the Funeral Home.”
Qualitatively, we were hearing that independent funeral homes were feeling less hostile towards Batesville. Moreover, through value-added programs Batesville offered, customers increasingly returned to doing business with the largest casket manufacturer.
The October 1999 National Funeral Director’s Association in Kansas City was the catalyst for consumer media outreach program. Batesville successfully sought out media opportunities using a consumer research news hook and the massive funeral director assembly for the convention. From October 1999 through the 2000 calendar year, print media placements included 20 stories on Batesville’s message of creating meaningful funerals. The outreach program also resulted in significant coverage in the December 1999 issue of Fast Company.
A VNR produced in February 2000 was the basis for broadcast media coverage in many local markets throughout the year including Los Angeles, Colorado Springs, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and national coverage in Toronto, Canada.
Through a strategic issues management and consumer outreach campaign, Batesville Casket has been able to overcome incredible obstacles within the funeral industry. They repaired and strengthened relationships with independent funeral directors, continue to do business with national chains and had an opportunity to focus attention on reaching consumers with the meaningful funeral message.
Batesville now deals proactively with issues and is proud of a number of value-added programs that have been developed to demonstrate their commitment to the independent funeral director. Additionally, they increasingly work together with funeral directors to get the message to consumers about the value of a meaningful funeral.