The Indie List: Doing well by doing good

How UpHouse takes in-house to the next level
For the Balmoral Hall girl’s school in Winnipeg, UpHouse created a video asking students what they want to be when they grew up, then flipped it to say “We think the world would be a better place if we asked our kids who they wanted to be when they grew up instead of what they wanted to do for a living.” The tagline sentiment of “we see your daughter not for what she’ll do but for who she’ll become” resonated and drove 100% enrolment.

For the Balmoral Hall girl’s school in Winnipeg, UpHouse created a video asking students what they want to be when they grew up, then flipped it to say “We think the world would be a better place if we asked our kids who they wanted to be when they grew up instead of what they wanted to do for a living.” The tagline sentiment of “we see your daughter not for what she’ll do but for who she’ll become” resonated and drove 100% enrolment.

When Alex Varricchio and Kiirsten May started Winnipeg-based UpHouse in 2017, they reasoned that the best way to get the word out was with a strong content strategy. So they decided to write a book.

Published in North America in March 2020 by ECW Press, The Proximity Paradox is a practical guide for in-house marketing teamswho are challenged by the classic tension between innovation andexecution. Says May, “One of the biggest misconceptions we asan agency see is this idea that agency marketers are more creativethan in-house marketers. It’s not true in our opinion.”

As the world learned the concept of physical distancing, the book Alex Varricchio and Kiirsten May co-authored on "creating a distance from business as usual" was published in March.

As the world learned the concept of physical distancing, the book Alex Varricchio and Kiirsten May co-authored on “creating a distance from business as usual” was published in March.

The truth, according to May, is a little more nuanced than that. It’s not so much that an in-house team is less creative. It’s more that when they’re too close to the work and under pressure to keep the marcom fires burning, it’s difficult to find white space for innovation. May explains: “When you are responsible for both innovation and execution, you’ll only innovate to a level at which you are able to execute. We’re trying to help them create some distance from their own work and allow their teams room for creativity.”

With eight staffers and a network of 30 contributing practitioners, UpHouse can also provide creative, strategic and production support.

UpHouse is working with Delta 9 Cannabis to develop retail-ready brands for a dozen micro-cultivators that will begin selling their cannabis in Delta 9 stores. Pictured here is the brand developed for Longhouse Cannabis, a company owned by the Hupacasath First Nation.

UpHouse is working with Delta 9 Cannabis to develop retail-ready brands for a dozen micro-cultivators that will begin selling their cannabis in Delta 9 stores. Pictured here is the brand developed for Longhouse Cannabis, a company owned by the Hupacasath First Nation.

Positioned in the gap between client organizations and external agencies, the name ‘UpHouse’ refers to elevating inhouse marketing teams. While the name does a good job of expressing its mission, there’s more to the value proposition. For one, LGBT- and woman-owned UpHouse is also a Certified Diversity Supplier. And not only does it exemplify diversity in its own ranks, it consults with clients like the Business Development Bank of Canada on how to tell their diversity stories and inspire diversity within their organizations.

UpHouse worked with TECHNATION’s Career Ready team to launch a national campaign this fall encouraging employers to consider student talent and promote the Career Ready subsidy program.

UpHouse worked with TECHNATION’s Career Ready team to launch a national campaign this fall encouraging employers to consider student talent and promote the Career Ready subsidy program.

Aside from a strong content game, UpHouse has also driven business development with a deep commitment to not-for-profit clients. Says Varricchio, “We have a don’t-say-no approach to non-profit work so when a NFP aligns with our values, we’ll provide them with a pay-what-you-can model to cover our overhead.” Since 2017, Varricchio estimates the firm dedicated about $350,000 worth of hours to pro-bono causes.

The Society for Manitobans with Disabilities (SMD) has been offering support programs and services for people living with disabilities since 1950. Since then, much has changed in the disability rights landscape. The organization wanted all Manitobans to stop focusing on disabilities and instead work to remove barriers to full and equal participation for all. Collaborating with stakeholders at all levels, UpHouse developed a new name that focused on what’s possible for individuals with disabilities: Manitoba Possible. The brand launch entailed a new logo, graphic standards manual and a series of videos.

The Society for Manitobans with Disabilities (SMD) has been offering support programs and services for people living with disabilities since 1950. Since then, much has changed in the disability rights landscape. The organization wanted all Manitobans to stop focusing on disabilities and instead work to remove barriers to full and equal participation for all. Collaborating with stakeholders at all levels, UpHouse developed a new name that focused on what’s possible for individuals with disabilities: Manitoba Possible. The brand launch entailed a new logo, graphic standards manual and a series of videos.

One of the more celebrated efforts was a guerilla campaign for the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba called ‘Locked Out of Life’, which featured local disabilities advocate Tyson Sylvester sitting in his wheelchair in a jail cell which was set up in the downtown Winnipeg Exchange district. “We set up a pair of headphones outside of his cell so you could listen to his story about how a lack of provincial funding means adults with physical disabilities are locked out of the community,” explains Varricchio. With no promotional budget the campaign racked up over 100,000 views. It helped amplify efforts to secure government mediation and also earned Atomics and several other awards in 2019.

When Covid-19 hit, UpHouse quickly launched another push for the same client which highlighted the fact that while many of us were in isolation for the first time in our lives, because of a lack of government support, folks with disabilities are in a state of isolation all the time, not being able to see friends, work, or connect to their communities. UpHouse recorded ZOOM calls to create spots in which adults with disabilities provided words of encouragement for the rest of us. The campaign was featured on CBC National News.

The imagineNATIVE festival's original logo was created by prominent Indigenous artist Kent Monkman. After 20 years, the festival had evolved to include more storytelling media and had grown into an organization that supports Indigenous storytelling year round by offering training and programming for artists. UpHouse respected Monkman’s work while evolving the logo to make room for other storytelling platforms: AR, VR and interactive.

The imagineNATIVE festival’s original logo was created by prominent Indigenous artist Kent Monkman. After 20 years, the festival had evolved to include more storytelling media and had grown into an organization that supports Indigenous storytelling year round by offering training and programming for artists. UpHouse respected Monkman’s work while evolving the logo to make room for other storytelling platforms: AR, VR and interactive.

A track record of producing effective campaigns and probono work gaining national attention is paying off with projects for clients like Merck, agribusiness giant Cargill, TECHNATION (formerly the IT Association of Canada), the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and imagineNATIVE.

“The work that we’re doing because we get to connect with clients we’re passionate about is now leading to larger opportunities. We’re able to compete with agencies out of Toronto and win”, asserts Varricchio. “Most of our wins this summer were out of Toronto, which we feel really good about.”

CONTACT:
Alex Varricchio
Co-owner
alex@uphouseinc.com