The Elevator Pitch

One of the best things about working in the advertising and communications industry is that there’s rarely a dull moment. Many of us get to luxuriate in swanky offices, mix with creative people, and can justifiably spend time on YouTube conducting research. What’s not to like?

However, there is one aspect of daily drudgery that all but the smallest agencies cannot avoid – lifts.

Let’s face it – lifts are dull. They take ages to arrive and when they do you’re often forced into closer-than-you’d-like proximity with other people. As Gestalt scholar and social psychology pioneer Solomon Asch and a 1962 Candid Camera episode discovered, they also have a strange ability to prompt conformist behaviour.

American comedian Steve Wright offers his own explanation as to why people behave differently in lifts:

“When I was little, my grandfather used to make me stand in a closet for five minutes without moving. He said it was elevator practice.”

Going up?

Given how little people enjoy the experience of using lifts, it’s ironic that they hold a special place in the lexicon of advertising and sales.

We use the term ‘elevator pitch’ to describe the ability to present an idea or value proposition quickly.  It’s not clear where the term originally came from, although the use of the word elevator, suggests that it’s a cultural import from the US. Regardless of the source, being able to deliver a great elevator pitch is still a good test of effective communication.

However, like the plumber with a leaky tap at home, many communications businesses struggle to deliver effective elevator pitches to describe themselves. Very often people working in the same building aren’t aware about what their colleagues on another floor or in a sister agency do.

Lift off

This week, Engine London (where I work) decided to solve this problem by bringing the elevator pitch to life. Allowing each of Engine’s 13 agencies the opportunity to take over a lift for two weeks. Each one has been given the challenge of communicating creatively what they do and what they have achieved.

It kicked off with Partners Andrews Aldridge going head-to-head with WCRS and Jam, Engine’s social media agency.

The result has been a huge word-search puzzle; a ‘complete the end line’ quiz, and most bizarrely, a human bee carrying out ‘buzz research’. (No prizes for guessing which agency came up with that idea).

Obviously there is a social element to it, with each team competing to get more mentions on social media of their hashtags: #PAAlift, #WCRSlift #Jamlift. (Again, I’ll leave you to guess who is currently winning this particular challenge).

While this has led to some friendly rivalry in the building, it also has helped Engine’s staff and visitors understand more about what each agency does. But there is one important additional benefit. It has made taking the lift FUN.

It reminds me of the excellent TED speech delivered by Rory Sutherland who describes how advertising creates intangible value. To illustrate the point, he describes how a group of engineers were once set the challenge of making Eurostar train rides more pleasant. They came up with a solution that involved redesigning the rail tracks at a cost of £6 billion to shave 40 minutes off the journey time.

Rory’s “naïve advertising man’s” suggestion was to hire the world’s top supermodels and pay them to walk the length of the train handing out free Château Pétrus. He estimated you’d save about £3 billion and people would ask for the trains to be slowed down!

I have yet to be offered a free glass of fine wine in the lifts at Engine, but then this is only week one.

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