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The Memo And The Dreaded Cliché


Bill Vancil was the Program Director when I arrived at WISM AM and FM in Madison. In fact, Bill was very instrumental in my landing that sales job in Madison, WI, with the Midwest Family. It turns out I was the only salesperson who had ever included a tape of the commercials I had written and sold with my resume.

Since the resume package contained a tape, the receptionist figured it was an air check from a jock and sent it up to Bill Vancil. The PD looked over my resume and saw I was applying for a sales job. He also noticed that I had been an all-American high jumper in college.

He was coach of the station’s basketball team and thought I might fit in. He walked the resume down to Phil Fisher, the sales manager and said, “Phil, you’d better hire this guy.”

The rest is radio history.

Bill Vancil was recently inducted into the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame, a well-deserved lifetime achievement award. As I was reflecting on Bill’s accomplishments, I remembered a memo that he wrote to the sales team. It went something like this:

“We now have 28 advertisers who have as their only positioning statement ‘For all your _________ needs.’ This adds no value or point of difference to the commercial. I have instructed our production team not to record that line again. They are to return the commercial to you for a rewrite. Think of something more compelling with which to end your commercials.”

And we did.

By not being allowed to write the clichéd phrase, we had to think harder and write better. It also gave us something to talk about with our clients. “We’ve banned the phrase ‘For all your _______ needs’ from our airwaves. We want to make your commercials stand out and sell harder.”

A few years later, I started my own business and created my first audio product. I called it How to Write Selling Copy. And I invented a new way to evaluate a piece of copy. I called it the “Cliché Index.” You simply underlined all of the clichés and counted the number of words that could be considered clichés. Then you divided the number of words in the commercial into the number of words you had identified as clichés. This gave you a decimal that indicated the percentage of the commercial that was cliché-filled.

-- Plenty of free parking
-- All the names you know and love
-- For all your _______ needs
-- Friendly, trained personnel
-- We really care about our customers
-- We service what we sell

Over the years, we have  graded reams of copy using the Cliché Index. We have found commercials that contain 70 percent clichés. That means for every thousand dollars the advertiser invests to run the commercial, the writer is wasting $700 by filling it with clichés that add no value and make the advertiser sound like everybody else.

You know what? Even though my Cliché Index idea never reached a tipping point, it’s still a valid measurement.
And my rule never to run copy that contains more than 10 percent clichés still stands.

You could write that memo today and improve the copy in your cluster immediately.

Thanks to Bill Vancil for that long-ago memo. Your advice helped a lot of salespeople write more compelling copy and get real results for their advertisers.

Chris Lytle is the founder of Sparque, Inc. This well-traveled speaker has conducted more than 2200 seminars on three continents. He’s the best-selling author of The Accidental Salesperson and The Accidental Sales Manager.
Reach Chris by e-mail

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- Ronald T. Robinson

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