Eileen Petridis | June 20, 2023
The proverbial elevator pitch. Everybody talks about it. And every savvy marketing-oriented company knows it needs one. But how many people or companies actually get it right? Here’s a breakdown of what it is, where it comes from, and how to write one.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when and where the term “elevator pitch” – also sometimes referred to as “elevator speech” – first originated, but the overall concept has been around for a very long time. One story has it that an executive had an idea he wanted to share with his boss but could never get time on his busy calendar. So, he waited for him at the elevator and rode up with him. At that point the boss was a “captive audience” and had little choice but to listen. An elevator pitch is what you say to get your point across in the time it takes to ride an elevator.
Often when I begin the onboarding process with a new client, it’s one of the first things I hear: “We need an elevator pitch”, and for good reason. A succinct message can be applied in many situations both professionally and personally whether you’re selling a product, offering your services to a prospective employer, or even trying to get a story into the news.
Perhaps the best way to get started with drafting a great elevator pitch is to first understand what an elevator pitch is not. It is not a summary of every single service or product your company offers. Nor is it a type of chest beater that’s designed to tout your every accomplishment. And finally, it’s not a deal closer. It’s unlikely that anyone has ever landed a piece of business simply because they recited their elevator pitch.
Instead, an elevator pitch is a brief, clear and consistent message that communicates what your company is, what it does (and why) and why anyone who matters should care. It is designed to create interest in knowing more.
Let’s focus first on the brief part. It’s called an elevator pitch because it should be short enough to be recited in the average time it takes to ride an elevator. There was a time when the rule of thumb was between 30 seconds and two minutes, but in today’s fast-paced environment where people are inundated with information and suffering from information overload, the shorter the better – aim for 25 to 30 seconds. Stated differently, it should typically be fewer than 90 words. That means only a handful of carefully worded and impactful sentences that can be easily memorized and smoothly delivered. An elevator speech is only effective if it can be recited routinely by any number of people, consistently and with very little variation.
Next is the “what” part of describing your company. Here, you need to be clear and concise, careful not to get down into the weeds or buried in jargon or overly used superlatives. Prospects can be quickly turned off with unsupported statements that position someone as the best or the preferred. Rather, use terms that can be measured or justified, such as the largest or oldest or ranked No. 1 by a recognizable third party.
When you get to the part about what your company does, avoid the temptation to list your services. It’s more about the benefit and the “why” of what you do that matters. One easy way to remember this is to think of this famous quote from Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt who said: "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!"
In the medical field, for example, keep in mind that no one wants to go to the hospital, even if it’s the best hospital with the friendliest staff. They do, however, want to feel better and live longer.
As another example, if you’re supplying parts to the aviation industry, prospects don’t need to know within the first 30 seconds of meeting you that you manufacture 5 kW ram air turbines for various-sized aircraft. But they will be interested to know that your products are specified by Boeing and other leading manufacturers for their ability to keep aircraft flying even if all electrical power is lost, or that your designs have been used by NASA because of their superior safety and performance ratings.
The most successful elevator speeches are those that focus on what will benefit the listener. Highlight solutions that are relevant. Be as vivid as possible to capture interest and ensure they want to learn more.
How do you know if your elevator pitch is effective? That depends on your audience and your purpose. Know, in advance, what you want to gain from the conversation. Do you want to get a referral? A business card? A meeting? Or do you want them to go to your website for more information?
Writing an effective elevator speech is as much an art as it is a science, so make sure that yours appeals emotionally, as well as intellectually, to your prospects.
Ready to refine your PR game and elevator pitch? Contact Falls & Co. and let’s explore the possibilities.
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Eileen is a senior vice president at Falls & Co. She provides strategic counsel to help a wide array of B2B and consumer clients launch and sustain successful media relations and marketing communications programs.