As change continues to sweep over the marketing and media industries, the number of consultancies looking to guide them keeps growing. The latest entrant, UpperRight, has set its sights solidly on the middle market, guided by its two co-founders who both have decades of consulting and agency chops between them.
Adam Lavelle, most recently a top solutions executive within Dentsu and its Merkle unit, and Alan Schulman, who holds consultancy experience with Deloitte and Sapient, said their advisory firm’s name refers to the part of a four-quadrant matrix chart most companies want to land in — the upper right corner. While Schulman brings the people and process part of the job, Lavelle will handle the technology and tools end.
Based in New York, UpperRight will also have a West coast presence helmed by Jessica Burdman, an operations vet with agency experience at both Dentsu and Real Chemistry. The firm said it has signed two clients to date — Atlanta-based marketing cloud firm Sercante, and another the principals declined to identify.
The following interview with Lavelle and Schulman has been edited for clarity and space.
You both have corporate and consulting experience. What do you see as the whitespace you’re looking to fill?
Lavelle: All of marketing and customer experience is increasingly platform-based, meaning it’s got to live on a tech stack. And that means the blurring of the lines between the CMO and the CIO — whose budget and whose decision-making drives what happens and drives those investments. Everybody’s been so focused on transforming — which really just means change. But to what end? What happens once you dump all those old legacy systems and put all these new pieces of tech in place? Did you actually make the experience better? We think they need help navigating that, connecting a lot of dots across people and processes. If you don’t have the right change management and board design to run those platforms, you’re gonna fail.
Schulman: Our former employers do that at [a] big scale. This is a more bespoke opportunity. It’s more skill-based versus scale-based, which means high touch from very senior folks who can work with CMOs and CTOs on the gaps in their knowledge as well as helping them navigate the silos within paid, owned and earned.
What examples in recent history show that the urge to transform rendered something either useless or meaningless? Any car wrecks in your rear view where you go, ‘That’s exactly what we want to help other companies avoid’?
Schulman: A lot of enterprises feel like if they lean into the plumbing, ahead of the poetry, that’s going to solve everything. But we’ve seen a lot of instances where people will lean too heavily into the tech, but not be able to get the organizational change or the people change necessary to allow the tech to deliver.
Lavelle: This is very minor, but we just went through the process over the last 48 hours of setting up an account with Cision to put out a press release. It took over 48 hours, required two phone calls to human beings, it requires the longest form you’ve ever seen to fill out. It required three text confirmations, two email confirmations — all to put out a press release. I opened an online banking account for our business in less time.
So what kind of companies are you targeting?
Lavelle: There are lots and lots of new small services companies, the kinds of companies that Deloitte and Dentsu buy up. They’re in the middle market. Maybe they’ve built a really good business around a product around the marketing cloud or commerce cloud. But their expertise is in product implementation and installs and setups, not in outcomes and solving problems — business problems. A lot of those smaller companies really could benefit from maturing their business so they can offer better services to their clients.
Will you target both B2C as well as B2B clients?
Schulman: [Many B2B companies have] woken up to the value of inbound content marketing and the fact that they’ve got to feed the beast with content. They’ve got to build content organizations that can generate inbound leads. Because at that middle funnel level, it’s great to be in the account-based marketing side of the business, but you’ve got to have a well-oiled content machine to both complement your outbound with inbound.