CAMPAIGNS: Product PR - Death be not proud - be funny

Client: WhiteLight (Dallas)

Client: WhiteLight (Dallas)

Client: WhiteLight (Dallas)

PR Team: Becky Mayad Public Relations (Dallas)

Campaign: Driving sales for art caskets

Time Frame: January 1999 to present

Budget: dollars 2,000 to dollars 4,000 a month

The casket industry doesn’t typically inspire the sort of irreverent

headlines collected by Dallas-based WhiteLight: ’To Die For’ (US News &

World Report), ’Boomers Plot Exit Strategies’ (USA Today) and ’Thinking

Out of the Box’ (Fort Worth Star-Telegram).

But then no other casket company produces art caskets: steel coffins

draped entirely in a mural. (The effect is the same as a city bus

shrink-wrapped with a film ad.) The boxes appeal to baby boomers whose

last wishes include leaving this world in a way that reflects their

life’s interests. WhiteLight makes 30 models, including ’The Race Is

Over’ (for Nascar fans), ’Fairway to Heaven’ (for golf enthusiasts) and

’Return to Sender’ - a brown-paper parcel with the familiar red postal

stamp for ’those blessed with a sense of humor,’ according to national

sales manager Kit Vinson. (The company also makes customized


WhiteLight hired Becky Mayad, who runs her own Dallas PR agency, to

publicize the company’s launch in February 1999. But the press interest

was so strong that she’s been managing the momentum ever since.


The first publicity wave began four days after Mayad mailed the media

kit in January 1999, and it lasted six months. She made follow-up calls

to national and regional outlets. ’You can get a bigger bang for the

buck if you get the big guys, but in our eyes, every community was

important,’ says Mayad - who points out that people die everywhere.

When reporters heard ’casket,’ they instantly recalled her release,

Mayad says. Even though the story wasn’t right for some, ’I rarely had

anyone say they weren’t interested,’ she adds.

Mayad knew she could do more, but by September, WhiteLight was glad for

a lull because the company was 1,700 sales leads behind schedule and

wanted time to meet demand.

This year, Mayad has been drumming up interest among business and

auto-racing publications and is looking for ways to publicize the newly

introduced military and college lines.


For the launch, Mayad mailed 700 media kits, 300 of which contained

photographs. When following up, she offered visuals to those who didn’t

receive them. Once reporters see the caskets, ’it’s an instant sell,’

Mayad contends.

The PR pro focused first on the five major cities in Texas, spread out

to the bordering states, then the national general interest media and

top 25 dailies. Next she targeted funeral business, golf, Hispanic and

gay publications, playing up casket themes appealing to each. Because

the founders were formerly radio executives, she pitched their story to

advertising and radio trades.

She tracked down buyers for reporters to interview, like the Texas

rancher who ordered a customized ranch landscape to be delivered after

his death.

Though some radio announcers have been known to make fun of the concept,

Mayad diplomatically explains, ’This is not a publicity gimmick, this is

a legitimate product, and we’re not going to let you abuse us in the


But humor is often just beneath the surface, as in Mayad’s release about

the Irish flag casket: ’When the luck of the Irish finally runs

out ...’


Big 1999 hits include a one-page People magazine story with color

photos; an AP piece, which spawned 50 stories so far; a CBS This Morning

segment shot from a St. Charles, MO funeral home that displays art

caskets; and pieces in Playboy and Details. Several funeral, golf and

advertising trades also ran features.

Sales have increased from dollars 1 million for all of 1999 to dollars 1

million for the first quarter of 2000.

’PR is what convinced the industry that there was consumer acceptance of

what the Art Casket provided,’ declares Pat Fant, managing partner of



Now that WhiteLight has a track record, The Wall Street Journal may

reconsider a story. And Mayad thinks David Letterman would appreciate a

casket with his face on it

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