When Dignity Memorial entered our public relations universe in 2017, the agency already had been working for many years for Fairhaven Memorial, which was acquired by Service Corporation Inc. (SCI), and earlier for another Orange County mortuary. So, HKA was well-suited to tackle SCI’s Orange County-Northern San Diego County region, comprised of a dozen Dignity (the brand name of SCI) Memorial mortuaries and memorial parks led by Bob Dowson, who is skilled at managing his charges and is a pleasure to work with.
Over the first three months, we toured the 12 locations, met each general manager and discovered that each site has its own distinct “flavor.” Although each location flies the Dignity Memorial banner, no two sites are alike. In the months that followed, we learned there is no one-size-fits-all in this business, and for the past year, we have continued to glean interesting insights about this client. While SCI is the biggest U.S. company in the funeral industry, and there are many facts and figures on the corporate website, here are a few personal observations about our regional client that belong in the spotlight.
- Every general manager is passionate about their position and proud of their mortuary. Most have been in the industry for many years. Many stumbled into the career but learned they loved it and rose to management. A few knew right from the start this was their calling. Others found it as a second career. When asked why, the almost unanimous answer was “the people!” They love being able to help the families going through grief, making this tough time easier and helping create a celebration for their loved one. And it’s not only the GMs who feel this way. Kindness is a common trait.
- The memorial parks are not just places where people are buried, interred or cremated. Yes, that’s the main function, allowing loving families to visit gravesites, mausoleums or cremation gardens. But, the memorial parks are inviting fixtures in the communities in which they conduct business, and community gatherings happen often, including free public concerts, movies, car shows and holiday celebrations. Grief workshops are offered (even for grieving pet owners) and community groups hold meetings. Some locations are in such a beautiful, natural setting that people just enjoy strolling through the gardens. When people feel more comfortable on the grounds, they may feel more at ease when facing a family member’s death.
- Most memorial parks are divided into sections, based on ethnicity or religion. Most people wish to have their final resting place in an area surrounded by people of their same ethnic or religious background. Dignity locations welcome all groups – the sections are adjacent but separate. It has been fascinating to see how the different groups commemorate the gravesites.
- Pre-planning is so important! We’ve all heard that planning ahead makes it easier on everyone, but after hearing so many stories of families that planned, and those that didn’t, it’s a night-and-day experience. It’s tough to think about your own mortality, or that of your parents, but we’re convinced. As part of its brand DNA, Dignity believes it’s critical to take this eventual burden from the loved ones of those who pass. Part of our mission as their PR agency is to communicate the exceedingly kind, sensitive and authentic way this is accomplished.