Chairing a panel recently in a UK city, I invited questions from the audience as per usual. In a timid crowd, only one man raised his hand initially. But his question was a good one: he said he had recently returned from Silicon Valley, where the sales pitch is an art form, and he wanted to know how to best encapsulate, in a short, snappy, simple format, why investors should choose to invest in the city in question. 

In essence, he was asking for the city’s elevator pitch.


For those not familiar with the term, an elevator pitch is a succinct yet impassioned pitch that can be delivered in the time it would take to go a few floors in an elevator with a prospective customer or business partner. It’s an American concept in origin and while I am not usually a fan of the type of corporate hokeyness in which my native country excels, I do find the elevator pitch has some merit. It is said that you only know a topic really well if you can summarise it in a sentence or two. If you need a long, wordy explanation, then you don’t really get it.

It was with this in mind that my colleagues and I challenged representatives of Brazilian cities and regions, for whom we were leading a training seminar some months ago, to give us their elevator pitches. In the role play I was the CEO of a Japanese electronics component maker looking to invest in South America, and they had to convince me to choose their location. We sprung this on them so they had only a few minutes to prepare.

The results were, on the whole, pretty good. What constitutes a good pitch is highly subjective – my colleagues and I did not uniformly agree on what we liked and didn’t like about the ones we heard in Brazil. But in my view, the best pitches included a relatable cultural angle (a few started by mentioning their cities’ historical links with Japan or existing Japanese investors), and an eye-catching stat, mainly related to growth, that illustrated why the opportunity was not to be missed.

For economic developers, spending time fine-tuning their elevator pitches is a useful exercise. Because you can produce mounds of brochures and give endless PowerPoint presentations, but if you cannot summarise your location’s unique selling points in a few minutes flat, you either haven’t got any or you don’t know what they are. Either way, you’re not likely to get off the ground floor with investors.