March 18, 2006

Selling the Dead

Gene Weingarten's Washington Post piece tomorrow, Undertaking a Difficult Sales Job, is a PR pitchmaster's dream -- or nightmare.

In the column, Weingarten chronicles a conversation he had with Heather Huhman (are we reading Dickens?) the PR person for the National Funeral Director's Association. Wondering if a pitch he had received -- tying together in a way that only a master flack can do -- the port management issue with a future terrorist attack, and a terrorist attack to mass fatalities, and those mass fatalities to the business of undertaking, Heather apparently crafted a pitch too morbidly real to believe and too surreal for Weingarten to resist. So he called her:

Me: Okay, here's the context: "To follow-up on the articles being written in the Post about Bush's port deals, John Fitch, VP of Advocacy for the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), can discuss how America is planning to handle the potential mass fatalities from a terrorism standpoint -- and perhaps more importantly to you, how small business owners (funeral directors) will play an important role. Most funeral homes are owned by the same family for an average of four generations."

Heather: Well, yes. The roles they will play in mass fatalities.

Me: I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I think I love you.

Heather: Okay . . .

Me: What is love but a feeling of intense empathy? I can't imagine many more difficult jobs than being the PR person for the Funeral Directors Association.

Yes, I laughed, but with an all-too-familiar queasiness over my ex-agency days, when, right after 9/11 we came up with some pretty twisted pitches as we tried to tie any and every client to an answer to fear and trepidation, or alternatively to a warped nationalistic pride -- the contributor to x-y-z foundation for America -- as we quickly revamped every client's website so as not to be too happy in these new dire times. Or at least that's how we sold a bunch of new business.

Pass the Dramamine.

Fortunately, the brief "warped pitch phase" was followed by a "don't do that!" phase, where we couldn't tie anything to 9/11 or risk making a client look like their brand was profiting from the tragedy. Which, essentially, was our job to make so. Without looking like it was, of course. And you wonder why Prozac is breakfast of PR champions.

Thank God for downsizing.

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Thanks to The Flack for the pointer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Iraq :

Can you imagine doing PR for that place?