How to Market to Those Who Don’t Plan on Dying

Posted April 4, 2018

7 min read

There’s a whole new frontier for funeral homes to connect with communities in fresh, creative, and non-threatening ways.

To talk about these fresh ideas that can be used in your local community, we spoke with Gail Rubin, Certified Thanatologist, Certified Funeral Celebrant, speaker, and author.

Rubin is known for helping funeral homes to connect with people on end-of-life issues. She’s a pioneering death educator using all kinds of content and creative outlets to do just that.

If you’re willing to adjust your style and possibly try something new, you can draw hundreds of people to open events that are focused on topics that deal with our mortality.

Want proof on how this allows you to connect with families in a whole new way? Just look at the popular Before I Die Festivals which are helping to get “those who don’t plan on dying” to start thinking positively about death.

Let’s dig deeper.

‘Taking Death Out of The Closet’

So what are Before I Die Festivals, exactly? Before I Die Festivals are part of a growing social movement to foster reflection about how people (individually, and as a society) manage their death and dying experience.

Boldly taking death out of the closet, these gatherings provide opportunities for people to openly discuss end-of-life issues. The aim in each location has been, in part, to get more people to think, plan, and act on issues related to their mortality.

The first festival originated in the UK and was held in 2013. It was as a part of a Dying Awareness Week. Then, in 2016, the U.S. took on its first festival thanks to the University of Indiana School of Nursing which had received a grant to hold a festival.

That first festival in the US had 28 different activities and drew around 800 people.

Shortly after, the second U.S. Before I Die festival was held in October of the same year in Louisville, Kentucky. Capitalizing on the success of previous festivals, the first Before I Die Festival in the U.S. held west of the Mississippi was coordinated by Rubin herself.

Taking lessons from the previous festivals, it was held in October of 2017. More than 20 events and activities made up the festival held in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Rubin now consults with others who want to create similar events within their communities. Here are 6 lessons learned if you want to create a high-value event that prompts questions and meaningful conversations about death, dying, and other end-of-life issues.

1. Know how much marketing goes into creating a festival

It’s easy to forget just how much sweat equity goes into marketing a large event, one that consists of dozens of smaller activities. In the case of Before I Die Festivals in particular, months and months of marketing is necessary to draw the kind of numbers they wanted to see.

At the same time, start with the basics by creating a website for all involved. After all, you’ll want to have a place to send potential speakers and panelists to so they can learn more about the event. Have that up and functioning at least 9 months prior to your event. If you have a preview of any of the kind of content you will be sharing, be sure to share it in social media and elsewhere.

No matter what kind of event you are planning, don’t underestimate the amount of marketing and publicity you will want to have.

2. Take time to organize your schedule

“Scheduling of your individual events is important to space them out so they do not overlap. What you want to avoid is forcing people to choose between one event over another,” explains Rubin.

If possible, it might be best to hire a coordinator or an event planner to handle the details so you can stay focused on your funeral home operations as much as possible.

3. Know what audience size you’re really aiming for

You may at first try an event that smaller in size—or you may want to have as many people as possible attend a larger event, such as a festival. Either way, Rubin says know that having one big event (comparable to a keynote or spotlight at a conference) can draw a critical mass of people.

“I learned this from the Before I Die Louisville Festival. They had a bunch of different events all over town over the course of two weeks, but they also had a one day symposium that offered continuing education credits for social workers and hospice workers and other people that also drew the general public in,” Rubin tells us. Be strategic about how you bring people together, depending on your objectives.

4. Keep your event low-cost or no-cost

Another recommendation from Rubin is to keep your event low-cost. People have so many alternatives to choose today, so it may mean you don’t want to charge to encourage more people who are curious to attend. If you do charge, to remain competitive, keep costs less than $20.

5. Don’t focus on just one demographic

It’s easy to over-generalize and to try to target just one demographic. Your marketing can still be targeted, but don’t underestimate how many different age groups will want to attend your festival.

Typically, the goal is to get all kinds of people—even those who don’t plan on dying—to think differently and plan for the inevitable, says Rubin.

All in all, baby boomers may or may not end up being your strongest demographic, but just as past festivals have shown, younger generations are just as excited to get in on the conversation.

6. Don’t try to do it all yourself

One lesson learned through other festivals: The power of using partnerships, other likeminded organizations, volunteers, hired outside help, and even sponsors to coordinate and put on your event. These groups can help with logistics and to put on the festival—including speakers, panelists and content—and they can help you market the festival.

Rubin says one of her early lessons coordinating the festival was that she may not be the right point of contact for all inquiries. “That was a lesson for me because there was a lot involved when you had 22 different events in almost 22 different locations. You had signage that needed to be set up, and materials put out, and collecting drawing slips to collect the contact information. And then breaking it all down and going to the next thing. You can really burn out if you don’t get help,” she says.

If appropriate, consider hiring a virtual assistant or, as mentioned, a partner that can serve as a coordinator or event planner.

A similar mindset works for leveraging sponsors’ existing ad buys to work in promotion of the festival. That might include billboards, newspapers, mailers, or other outlets that can drive local visibility and awareness. “And it can give the sponsors something new and different to work into their advertising that might actually draw more attention,” says Rubin.

Whether it is field trips, music, theater, poetry, panel discussions, Death Cafes and other outside-the-box activities, festivals and open events are a great way to get the conversation started—in a non-threatening way—about end-of-life issues in your community.

Learn More from Gail Rubin at the ICCFA Convention

Rubin will be presenting “Lessons on Grief and Mourning in Cartoons” at the ICCFA Convention in Las Vegas, April 18-21, 2018. That presentation will include popular animated video clips that illustrate and can help to instruct directors on mourning losses.

You can listen to Rubin’s interview with Justin Magnuson, co-founder of the Before 
I Die Louisville Festival, on her podcast, “A Good Goodbye,” on

Attend the Next Before I Die Festival

The second annual Before I Die ABQ Festival will be from October 30, 2018 to November 4, 2018. Events will take place at multiple locations and venues around Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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