Yesterday I wrote blog posts about military funeral etiquette and popular songs to play at a celebration of life.
How did I get here?
Last week marked a milestone for me. It was one year ago on April 3, 2017 when I walked through the doors at FrontRunner for my first day. I was coming to the end of my digital marketing graduate program and beginning a 6-week internship. I wasn’t sure what to expect really. Up until that point, the only connection to death care I had was attending a few funerals for family and friends.
Safe to say, death care was not what I thought it was going to be.
I remember when I was offered a placement opportunity with FrontRunner, I was excited. I didn’t know much about the company, but I knew that it was a great opportunity.
It’s funny looking back now, when people found out where I was going to be working, I got a lot of strange looks and questions like – “so you are going to work with dead people?”
Back then I just had to nod and agree. To be honest, it was a totally new experience and I didn’t really understand much of what we did – so it was hard for me to provide any real information. If you were to ask me that question today though, I would give you a totally different answer.
Placement was a blur, it was 6 weeks but it felt like only 6 minutes. I guess I did ok, though, because I was able to graduate and immediately joined the FrontRunner team.
During the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time writing. Like a lot of time. As a content writer for FrontRunner, I’m responsible for writing things like marketing materials, blog posts and every piece of custom content a client needs. Thousands of words, hundreds of pieces and couple keyboards later, it’s been a busy first year in death care.
And despite all of that time writing, I feel like I’ve spent even more time learning.
The death care space is quite niche, to say the least. Like a lot of industries, it’s not something you can become an expert in overnight. Even with the amount of content I write, I don’t consider myself an expert. The real experts in death care are the funeral directors. The ones who answer calls in the middle of the night. The ones who help a widow say goodbye to her husband of 60 years. My job isn’t to be an expert. My job is to share the things I’ve learned from funeral directors and use that to help inform families.
That’s the first thing I learned over the past year. Funeral service is so much more than simply arranging a funeral. It’s about helping people cope when their world is falling apart. It’s providing them with the knowledge and resources to begin a completely new journey. And most importantly, it’s about helping people acknowledge a loss and say a meaningful goodbye.
I was fortunate enough to learn while travelling with the company as well. In early September, our marketing team went to Inbound, a marketing conference held in Boston. Coincidently, the same place we would return to a few weeks later when we attended NFDA’s annual convention.
The trip to NFDA was an eye-opener. Getting to see a space filled with hundreds of different vendors offering technology, merchandise and services really helped me understand just how big the death care industry is. More importantly than getting to see all these vendors, was having the opportunity to chat with funeral directors on the trade show floor, at breakout sessions and in the hotel lobby.
The second thing I learned this year is that funeral directors are far from the stereotype through which they are normally cast.
Admittedly, if you asked me a year ago to describe a funeral director, I would have gone with something about a man in a suit. Today, I know that’s far from the case.
Funeral directors are everyday people. They’re caring. They’re funny. They’re moms and dads. They’re kids just out of school. They’re people on a second career. Every funeral director has their own story, experiences and personality.
Too often in marketing, we get caught up with buyer personas and perceived ideas about who someone is. I think what makes funeral directors so great is they can use these personal experiences to really connect with families. Looking back, my initial buyer persona of a funeral director was way off. Funeral directors are some of the most fun people to be around and have some of the best stories to share.
Reflecting on this past year, really makes me appreciate what we do at FrontRunner and how it impacts so many people. This really came full circle on the last night of NFDA. After the show ended and our booth was packed up, the few of us still in Boston made our way to the hotel bar to celebrate a successful show. While having a couple casual drinks, we started up a conversation with a couple of people who were planning their own convention and evaluating the convention center next door.
During this conversation, a lady by the name of Sherrie asked if we were part of the “dead guy convention” that had just wrapped up. We said yes and that brought about a bunch of follow up questions. The one that really stuck out to me was when she asked, “why would I ever consider preplanning my funeral service?”
Without skipping a beat, I started telling her the value in preplanning. It was like I was writing a page on it for one of our clients. What happened next really hit home with me, and showed me that the work we do at FrontRunner really helps funeral homes educate people. Sherrie started to tear up. She said she had never considered the points I made and that she should really look into this further. Seeing firsthand how the content I create helps people was rewarding but more importantly, it showed me that what we do really makes a difference in people’s lives.
My first year in death care has been amazing. Coming to work at FrontRunner every day is something I genuinely look forward to. In fact, most days don’t seem like work at all. That’s not just because of the work I get to do, but the team surrounding me here. As a family-owned company, we really value that and it’s something that is felt throughout the office. It even extends to our clients and hearing how our frontline team connects with the person on the other end of the phone. When you join FrontRunner, whether it be as a client, partner or employee. You’re joining a family. That’s something I think really sets our company apart from others in this space.
Remember back at the start when I didn’t really know what to say to the strange looks or “you work with death” questions. This is what I tell them today:
At FrontRunner, we don’t work with death. We provide funeral directors with the tools to help them serve and assist families through a difficult time. We provide consumers with the resources they need to cope with loss and begin a journey of grief. Most importantly though, I work with a group of colleagues and clients that care about nothing more than helping those in need and making a difficult situation a little easier.
I wasn’t supposed to be here. The plan was always to play center field for the New York Yankees. If that didn’t pan out, I was going to write for Sports Illustrated or GQ. It’s funny how life turns out though.
I never thought I would end up in death care.
But I’m sure glad I did.
Cheers to another great year ahead.
Tommy holds a Communications degree from Laurentian University and an Integrated Marketing Communications Graduate Certificate from St. Lawrence College. He is a Content Marketing Specialist at FrontRunner and focuses on producing engaging content that funeral homes can use to connect with families. In addition, Tommy crafts SEO content for clients and specializes in helping the general public connect with the death care industry as a whole.