Thursday, 14 January 2016

Elevator Pitches: A Brief History

The elevator pitch has been around for a long time. It wasn't always called an elevator pitch, but it existed nonetheless.

For the historians out there, the actual term ''elevator pitch'' is sometimes credited (including by Wikipedia) to Ilene Rosenzweig and Michael Caruso. According to Ms. Rosenzweig:
''I suppose I coined the term ''elevator pitch'' back when I lived in New York... I guess that was in the '90's, and was a journalist, and was dating another journalist, Michael Caruso, who was a senior editor at Vanity Fair, at the time. It was a very exciting job because Tina Brown was Editor-In -Chief. She was an ambitious editor...  (and he) was always trying to pitch her stories, but she was always on the move and he would try to snag her to get a story pitch out and sometimes the only way he would be able to do it is to jump into the elevator with her, when she was on the way out to her town car, and literally in just four floors to be able to sum up an entire potential 15,000-word story idea. When he would come home, it eventually just became, ''So, how was your elevator pitch today?''
 (from, Variety Pack episode 5: lift pack)

However, there is considerable evidence that the almost identical term ''elevator speech'' originated even earlier than that, and was already in somewhat wide-circulation at the time Ms. Rosenzweig used it:
Dr. Graham Wilson, at, tells the story. To summarise, a pioneer of the quality improvement industry, Phillip Crosby, was the originator of the term. In 1981 he published a book with the intriguing title ''The Art of Getting Your Own Sweet Way''. In the second edition of that same book ''...he suggests that all quality improvement people should have a pre-prepared speech selling the benefits of their new approach... that they could deliver in the elevator if they find themselves unexpectedly in the company of a senior executive for a few floors.''

Dr. Wilson goes on to quote Mr. Crosby directly:
''When teaching Quality Management, I always teach my students to learn an ''elevator speech''. This is an all-encompassing, action-producing set of ideas that you pronounce while on the elevator with the big boss for just 1 minute.''

To conclude the history section, I leave you with Dr. Wilson again:
''So...I'd have to say that the term ''Elevator Speech'' entered the published media in 1981, had become a popular term among managers in the US by 1987, and was already being promoted in the UK from 1983.''

Whatever you want to call it,  it has been with us for a long time. In the recent past, savvy salespeople would have several elevator type pitches at the ready, each one tailored to the specific situation they might find themselves in (roadside cafĂ©, hotel bar, restaurant, parking lot... maybe even an actual elevator). 

These pitches were short, sweet, succinct and memorable. They would leave clients, potential clients and anyone else who heard them informed and interested. The short pitches would lead to conversations, and the conversations would lead to questions. The salesperson would discuss other things, but in the end the conversation would come back around to the pitch topic. And in the right hands, and in the right situation, it would lead to an order or a direct sale.

All the best, and happy trails,

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