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.

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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.