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How to Handle When Key Utility Employees (Past and Present) Die

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In my day job, I often deal with both funeral homes and aggrieved families that want my publication to write a story-length obituary about a recently departed loved one.

Unlike a daily general circulation newspaper, my paper only writes about only the really significant people who might have had an impact on our readership. Because we might write an obit every other week, we often have to soothe angry readers who feel slighted their loved one didn’t make the cut.

That got me to thinking about how utilities can publicize the passing of key employees, both past and present,

First off, be selective about how you suggest for an obit. Any CEO, president or chairman of the board is a good candidate for an obit, as is any unique employee. That might include the guy who worked for you for 60 years or could be the former Major League Baseball player, actor or person who somehow gained fame outside the industry who quietly went to work for you later in their career.

Other than that, other candidates may be longshots. That CFO who worked for the company for 18 months back in the 1980s isn’t going to make the cut.

As far as getting information to the media, you may team up with the funeral home handling the funeral details, but you’ll also probably want to be reaching out on your own.

The information obviously should be delivered in a timely fashion and include plenty of background material on the person, especially his/her accomplishments. Include information about their childhood, education, their career (both at your company and elsewhere), their accomplishments, their family and the funeral details.

Feel free to present the material in obituary form akin to what you see in the local paper, but in all probability your wording will be heavily rewritten.

All this material should be presented directly to the media outlets, as well as contact information for family or friends that can talk about the deceased.

This can be a bit tricky because some family and friends will be overcome with grief, so choose wisely and be sure to get their permission to be used as a source in advance.

It should be noted that grief is more of an issue if the death is unexpected – if the person in question died in a car crash or of cancer, for example – or if the person is younger. When a 92-year-old dies, it’s expected and people are usually better prepared to handle it.

Also note that most people are willing to talk about a deceased love one – it’s cathartic.

Make sure to provide a head shot of the person, preferably one that looks like how the person is remembered. If the person who died is 90, you don’t want a head shot of them at 25. Perhaps a photo of them at 60 when they were CEO would be ideal. You can provide additional photos as well, but there’s no guarantee the media will use them.

Still, the more information that you provide, the better. If you make it easy for the media to write the obit, it’s more likely they will do so.

Andy Gotlieb's picture

Thank Andy for the Post!

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