Small Business

The Escalator Pitch


Veteran entrepreneurs and financiers have long understood the need for succinct pitches. Enter the Twitpitch. It's not what you think

Forget the elevator pitch. Forget the press release. Forget the PowerPoint deck. If you were making a "Twitpitch" about your business, it would be over by now.

A what? A Twitpitch forces you to tell your company's story in 140 characters (about 20 words), the maximum length of a message on Twitter, a microblogging platform that is gaining popularity (BusinessWeek.com, 5/15/08). Social media pioneer Stowe Boyd experimented with the idea and coined the term on his blog last month when, overwhelmed by e-mails, he decided to take appointments at the Web 2.0 Expo only via Twitter.

Boyd's experiment offers a lesson for small companies that want the attention of potential investors, clients, and press: Get to the point. And it applies in almost any business setting, not just on Twitter. It's no secret that less is more in the age of information overload, no matter how you're trying to reach people. That's why Boyd also calls it the escalator pitch. "It's something you can say in 10 seconds while he's going up the escalator and you're going down the escalator," he says.

Google's Eight-Word Pitch

Veteran entrepreneurs and financiers understand the need for brevity when pitching any business. In a previous column (BusinessWeek.com, 10/19/07) BusinessWeek.com communications columnist Carmine Gallo writes: "I was once told by an investor at Sequoia Capital that when the "Google (GOOG) guys" (Sergey Brin and Larry Page) first approached the firm, the two young Stanford students had no track record or experience running companies. But Brin and Page had passion for digital information and a concise vision: Google would provide "access to the world's information in one click" (eight words). The investor said when his team heard this, they understood the vision immediately and were eager to hear more."

So what makes a good escalator pitch? "Brevity and relevance," says Brian Solis, principal of FutureWorks PR and author of the blog PR 2.0. "It's about focus and precision, and it needs to be aligned and presented in a way that reflects who you write to and why it's beneficial to your readers," Solis says in an e-mail.

That means tailoring your message to your audience, he says. Tell investors how you're going to make money, tell customers how you're going to solve their problems, and tell bloggers why their readers should care.

The Foundation of Your Brand

How do you condense your message to escalator-pitch length? Profy co-founder Svetlana Gladkova, who took part in Boyd's experiment last month at the conference and trade show, suggests the message should start with the people behind the product, rather than an outside public relations or marketing firm. "When you're actually talking about your own product, it's your idea," she says. "You will find the words." If you can't, it may be a sign that your product is not distinct from competitors, she says. The Twitpitch that won Boyd over? "Profy is a new blogging platform focused on social aspects of blogging and providing a blogger with all the tools in one place."

Unknown startups should also think of escalator pitches as the foundations for their brands, says Vinnie Lauria, co-founder of online forum company Lefora. To pitch Boyd, he started with Lefora's tagline, then he added a comparison to a familiar service. The result: "lefora.com is forums made easy—it's like blogger for forums."

Lauria, whose seven-person San Francisco company launched the service in April, takes the same approach when presenting to venture capitalists, beginning and ending his slide show with "forums made easy." "If you have to take more than a sentence to explain your service, people aren't going to wrap their heads around it," he says.

The Fortune-Cookie Message

Boyd and Solis are working together to encourage what they call micro PR, where short messages compete for attention in an open forum, rather than the current system, where long e-mails land in private in-boxes. But using Twitter, let alone pitching on it, is still a big leap for most companies, PR firms, and reporters. In the month since Boyd began Twitpitch, just about 150 messages have been tagged with the "#twitpitch" label, according to a search on Twitter search tool Summize.

Boyd, who now takes pitches only via Twitter, acknowledges some companies may resist the idea. But he also says some PR people have told him they favor the process. "The real value isn't how many commas you put into an e-mail. It's really about how effective you are about getting people who are interested to take a call or a meeting," he says.

And with your audience drowning in more noise than ever, cutting your message to fortune-cookie length may be the best chance you have at getting their attention.

Can you pitch your company in 140 characters? Try it in the comments section below.

Tozzi covers small business for BusinessWeek.com.

Video Game Avenger
LIMITED-TIME OFFER SUBSCRIBE NOW
 
blog comments powered by Disqus