The Funeral Director Who Invented Social Media

Joe Weigel
Joe Weigel

I am glad I don’t have to compete with Frank Dawson. His use of social media for the past 50 years has built a veritable competitive fortress.

Ron Hast, the recently deceased owner of Mortuary Management magazine, had a very compelling habit. It was shortly after I started my career at Batesville Casket Company in the mid ‘90’s that I had my first conversation with Ron. Several days after the conversation, I received a hand written note from him, addressing me as “Sir Joe” and thanking me for the conversation. Over the years, it seemed Ron never failed to memorialize every conversation with a hand written note. Ron passed away last year, but I’m quite sure I still have several of his notes somewhere in my files. It was Ron who was the first person to impress upon me the power of the hand written note.

Recently, I became aware of another advocate of professional, handwritten communications. Meet Frank C. Dawson, funeral director from East Liverpool, OH. He is a second generation funeral director who’s passed the reins on to his son, Frank Dike Dawson and daughter, Belinda Dawson Dunlap. Frank has long been an advocate of handwritten communication and continues his “hobby” of personal correspondence to this day.

Frank has perfected an assembly line-like routine for sending personal letters to the pallbearers, musicians and clergy of every service his funeral home conducts. It involves a blank sheet of paper, a roller ball pen, copy machine and funeral home stationary. The process allows him to send out countless personalized notes on a daily basis. Frank also uses personalized post cards, note cards and Post it® to stay connected to those in his community.

Frank is also very active in the community of East Liverpool. From The Lou Holtz/Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame to the East Liverpool High School High School Alumni Association, Frank is visibly involved in these endeavors and never passes up the opportunity to speak to a group. When he does, he employs another of his tactics to build relationships – the picture packet.

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Frank likes to drive around town being social and handing out candy and $2 bills with his signature

When he goes to a banquet or other civic event, he brings a camera and takes a picture of each person at every table. He then asks them to address an envelope and return it to him. Once he returns home and develops the photos, he places the picture inside a paper jacket that holds the photo and scribes a note to the recipient. He then mails it using a commemorative stamp and a peel-and-stick gold foil monogram label.

It’s a safe bet that every person in East Liverpool and Columbiana County or someone in their family has been sent something from Frank. Think about it. 100 cards and letters a week, 52 weeks a year for 50+ years. Handwritten notes and cards are personal, unusual (nowadays) and memorable. People hold on to them. Remember, I still have my Ron Hast notes. It’s a powerful way of connecting. Way beyond today’s social media.

When I asked Frank what his motivation was for sending these personal notes and photographs, he told me his inspiration was another East Liverpool native and friend, former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz. In Frank’s words, “if you helped Lou across the street, he’d send you a three page letter thanking you.”

Frank (upper left) with his friend and mentor Lou Holtz (lower left)
Frank (upper left) with his friend and mentor Lou Holtz (lower left)

 Is it any wonder, I’ve dubbed Frank as the father of social media in the funeral profession? After all, the Merriam Webster dictionary defines “social” as “relating to or involving activities in which people spend time communicating with each other and “media” as “a medium of cultivation, conveyance, or expression.” I think that pretty well describes what Frank does.

Personal handwritten notes grow rarer by the day. According a recent U.S. Postal Service’s survey, the average home now only receives a personal letter once every two months. Twenty five years ago, people received one every two weeks. Recently both the Wall Street Journal and the Harvard Business Review had articles talking about the “lost art” of the handwritten note.

Handwritten notes are not the only trick in Frank’s bag. Want to learn more of Frank’s secrets? Then look for his book. “Gaining a Competitive Edge through Transformational Funeral Service”, scheduled for publication in the summer of 2015. The book will contain several chapters on how to use Frank’s brand of “social media” to your benefit.

Joe Weigel is the owner of Weigel Strategic Marketing, a communications firm delivering expertise and results across three interrelated marketing disciplines: strategy, branding and communications. For more information, he can be reached at 317-608-8914 or joseph.weigel@gmail.com.

 

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