Digital Obit Features Proving Lucrative for Publishers

April 14th, 2014

News & Tech, Spring 2014

By Sarah Zook, Associate Editor, News & Tech

Paid obituaries have long been a source of revenue for newspapers. But in an increasingly digital media environment, classified sales staffs are rethinking the way they court clients and provide quality products to the families of the deceased. To that end, vendors are answering the call with systems designed to assist newspapers in the online obituary space.

Among them, Adpay, which offers Memoriams.com for selling and building obituaries.

Revenue increases

Memoriams.com has about 2,300 newspapers in its network, most recently adding The Dallas Morning News and U-T San Diego.

“The advertiser goodwill generated by Memoriams.com was reason enough to go with it,” said Mike Hodges, president and chief operating officer of U-T San Diego. “However, we also see enormous revenue potential both from custom upsells and expanded local obituaries, as well as in the network opportunity to receive out-of-market placements.”

The Fredrick (Md.) News-Post is another recent adopter of the platform.

“We brought them on when we decided to take the online entry for obituaries,” said Lane Fields, advertising director for The News-Post.

Although the paper took its time getting up to speed and experienced some technical challenges integrating the system to feed into its internal CMS, Fields said Adpay helped the newspaper through the process and set up best practices. Adpay conducted three training sessions for the funeral directors and News-Post staff.

“It was hands-on and she took her time and answered every question,” Fields said.

Some of the area funeral homes had worked with the same person on the newspaper staff for the past 20 years so it was important to The News-Post that those funeral homes were comfortable with the platform. The News-Post also wanted the options for different customers. Longstanding customers, for example, still wanted to be billed, according to Fields.

“It has really cut down on the time it has taken our staff to put out the obit,” Fields said. “We were treating them as display ads and it was very time consuming.”

Memoriams.com has also helped keep The News-Post’s budgets on target and in some months increased sales.

“We’ve made our budgets every single month since launching,” Fields said. “We’ve seen increases coming from upsales built into the site.”

Because the funeral home has the option of showing larger obits and can opt to put their logo in the obit, it helps them increase sales.

“I’d say that in some cases the obits are 20 percent larger,” Fields said. “It’s been quite an increase for us.”

Many newspapers are seeing a 30 percent increase in revenues with the implementation of Memoriams.com, according to Anna Costello, director of product management at Adpay. She attributes much of that increase to the funeral director and the family having the tools to see everything right on the spot.

Costello has spent a lot of time going to trade shows and talking to funeral directors in order to better understand the process from the funeral home’s perspective.

“We hear a lot from funeral directors that they used to cringe when a family wanted to place an obituary,” she said. The reason? The obituary process can get very complicated and time consuming, especially if a family wanted an out-of-area obituary. Now with so many newspapers on the Memoriams.com system, placing obits anywhere is a much more streamlined process.

“Now I’ve been hugged and high-fived by funeral directors,” Costello said.

How it works

Newspapers provide funeral homes with a variety of templates and prices for each obituary. The funeral home is then able to log on to the site while the family of the deceased is present, walk them through all the steps and then send the obit to the newspaper directly. The family can see the finished product and get a PDF before the obituary is printed. Payment is taken either by credit card or, depending on the relationship with the newspaper, can be invoiced.

The installation process is also simple, according to Costello.

“We create a custom plan — we create front-end systems and share a number of best practices,” she said.

The launch timeframe, for e-mail delivery is about 30 days and 60-90 days for full integration. In addition to offering hands-on training for newspaper staffs, Adpay offers in-person training for funeral directors. Alternatively, funeral home staff can be trained via a webinar.

“We understand that it’s a new process so we want to hold our clients hands through it,” Costello said.

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