What Fish Can Teach Us About Communicating With Customers


Here’s a parable I first heard from my newswriting idol, Mervin Block, shared in his book “Writing Broadcast News: Shorter, Sharper, Stronger.”

A fishmonger at market proudly displayed his sign: FRESH FISH SOLD HERE

A passerby told him, “I don’t expect you’d sell fish that weren’t fresh.”

The fishmonger erased the word “fresh” leaving FISH SOLD HERE.

The passerby told him, “Everyone sees you there, so why state ‘here?’”

The fishmonger erased “here,” leaving FISH SOLD.

The passerby pressed again, “You’re not giving fish away are you?”

The fishmonger erased “sold,” leaving FISH.

Finally, the passerby suggested the fishmonger erase the word “fish” because anyone in the market could smell them a mile away.

The lesson?

In this “mixed-up, muddled-up fourteen-items-or-less- screaming-at-the-microwave-to- hurry-up-because-I-have-to-be- somewhere-ten-minutes-ago- world” — you don’t have a lot of time.

Your customers don’t either.

So, we must make our points and make them quick.

In fact, let me sum it up in four words: word economy is critical.

. . .

See how I’ve only used 166 of my allotted 400 words, let me share another lesson learned from Dan O’Day, a legend in radio programming.

Dan was on a plane and watched the stewardess wheeling her dining cart down the aisle.

She brightly greeted passengers and offered them their choice of a meal. She was efficient with her time, and a bit too efficient with her words.

“Chicken, fish or pasta?” she rattled off, delivered the tray and moved on.

“Chicken, fish or pasta?” she delivered her phrase as if it were one word.

“ChickenFishOrPasta? ChickenFishOrPasta? ChickenFishOrPasta?”

When she reached Dan, she said, “ChickenFishOrPasta?”

Dan replied, “I’ll try the “ChickenFish.”

The steward stopped. Blinked. And repeated, “ChickenFishOrPasta?”

Dan said – with a smile — “I’d really like to try that “ChickenFish.”

The steward paused, laughed and said, “Well, sir, for lunch options today we have chicken – fish – or — pasta.”

Dan smiled and said, “Oh! I’ll have the pasta.”

The lesson?

We produce widgets, websites, and wonders every day – and they can be commonplace to us and we speak of them as they’re “commonplace.”


Our customers may be hearing what we offer for the first time.

So every time we speak of what we do or who we are we should speak as if we are sharing them with someone who is hearing of them – or of your company — for the first time.

“Chicken – Fish — or – Pasta.”