Marketing In Times of Recovery

Marketing In Times Of Crisis has changed its name to Marketing In Times of Recovery. It's still a bi-weekly interview-led podcast series featuring inspirational built environment business leaders but more with a look to the future. We’ve had to weather crisis’ before and podcast listeners hear lively conversations, jam-packed with hints, tips and takeaways that you can apply to your business now. Hosted by Ayo Abbas, Founder / Consultant, Abbas Marketing. Subscribe now, rate, review and help us to spread the word.


episode 2: Ep 02: Strategy, Agility & Change with Liz Earwaker, AECOM [transcript]

Welcome to the latest episode of Marketing In Times of Crisis, I’m your host Ayo Abbas from Abbas Marketing. In this episode I talk to Liz Earwaker who is the Clients and Marketing Director, Commercial and Buildings EMEA, from global consultancy giant AECOM. I’ve known Liz for years from when we both worked in the marketing team at Mace.  

Liz shares her of experiences of developing an evolving marketing strategy to cope with the rapidly changing landscape we’re all facing today. She emphasises how business must be agile, open to change and quick to respond to external factors as they arise.   

She talks us through the three stage approach that AECOM is taking during the Coronavirus pandemic and how they are leveraging their global business network to share idea, best practice and solutions.   

Liz also shares how AECOM’s marketing team is empowering their teams on the ground with the right tools and campaigns to have conversations with their clients. She also discusses the different communications channels that have come into their own during lockdown including podcasts and webinars. 

Key takeaways 

  • Being agile and quick to respond to the changing environment. 
  • Empowering your teams and people on the ground. 
  • Embracing newer communications channels such as podcasts & social media as traditional channels such as events have stopped.
  • Using thought leadership and storytelling across channels to capture people’s imaginations and emotions.


Abbas Marketing
AECOM website
AECOM's The Future of Infrastructure report
Squire and Partners


 2020-07-03  30m
00:04  Ayo Abbas
Welcome to Marketing In Times of Crisis. It's where I get to chat to interesting business leaders about the steps that they're taking to weather the current crisis. We'll also take a look back on past recessions like the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008. In this episode, I get to chat to Liz Earwaker, from global giant, AECOM. Liz shares her experiences of developing strategy in a time of constant change, and the need for agility. She shares how they've been empowering their teams on the ground to have important conversations with their clients, and also looks at some of the marketing tools and ideas that they've adopted during lockdown. I hope you enjoy the show.
00:51  Liz Earwaker
So I currently lead the strategic marketing team who are responsible for the commercial and building sector at AECOM that's particularly in the Europe Middle East and Africa region. I'm based in London, but really, my role is to look across that whole region and work with business strategy and the business and the sector leaders to translate the business strategy and our growth initiatives into marketing and communications campaigns that really speak effectively to our clients. And so, you know, my role really, is to look across the whole customer journey. So, it's from understanding the client, and seeing what their issues and challenges are really delving into that and tracking this through really good interactions, communications and touchpoints that really should hope, hopefully generate good opportunities for AECOM
01:38  Ayo Abbas
In terms of what's happening at the moment how is your work being impacted by lockdown?Especially I'll start when it kicked off in March.
01:47  Liz Earwaker
Yeah, I mean, I think you know, if you'd asked me that, probably a month ago it'd be a very different story to now. You know, it was a big, big impact. At the beginning, obviously, it felt like it was coming but it was quite sudden. But we've we've been looking at really in a very much a staged process, I would say, you know, we pull this together really in the first few weeks. And I say we I mean, I'm part of a very large team, we have a large team in terms of the global team, not large in terms of the regions, but globally, you know, we're all very collaborative in what we do. And we looked at this in three ways around being preparedness, and that's about understanding right at the beginning, what's the impact, you know, how do we help to mitigate what's going on and deliver solutions? And then the second phase is really about how do we then respond to that. And then the third phase, which we're probably moving into now is really about the recovery and the future bit, you know, we're heading more into the phase and what does it mean? What's going what's going to happen? So, you know, it's been, it's been quite, we've had to be quite agile, really very fluid in what we're doing in responding to these moments. I mean, preparedness is really about understanding what skills and services do we have in the company that we can provide to clients at this moment in terms of support. That was about proactively talking to our clients about that going out and saying, how are you dealing with it? What do you need? And as a result of that, we did seconde people into different businesses, because they had to deal with either, you know, an elevation in terms of what they had to deliver, or they're impacted by their own people who, you know, had to deal with the situation themselves in lockdown or caring positions and all that, that kind of thing. So, so, you know, we delivered quite a lot very swiftly on healthcare support in the Nightingale hospitals, and but it was a, you know, in that in that period, which is not so long ago it's a period now, but history is just in front of our eyes. But in that period, we realised, you know, there was a few things that we were already doing, but that we were able to accelerate as well and we launched a virtual consultation tool, which you know, it should help the local authorities and businesses to try and push through and help people to engage on projects. And keep them going through now, you know, through this period of time.
04:05  Ayo Abbas
Was that already in the pipeline then?
04:07  Liz Earwaker
It was Yeah. But it you know, so it was fortuitous. But exactly the right thing. And we have as well as a company been going through a whole phase of digital transformation for ourselves and for our clients. So going from 2D to 3D. And again, that has been accelerated. But you know, we've been able to take clients on that journey very quickly as well, because we're already on it ourselves. So transferring out of the comfort of the office is as we've helped clients to do that, so it's really interesting how that has happened in that phase, really.
04:41  Ayo Abbas
And I guess moving on to your next phase, which is your respond phase. I mean, what kind of tactics and what sort of changes did you have to do around that?
04:49  Liz Earwaker
I mean, again, this really about what how do we help people return to service safely, really, and the plans around that, I mean, safely and continue business as well. So, you know, this goes on many levels. And I'll just talk about a couple, the very specific level about what's going to happen to our buildings and sites and the mothballing aspect. And we'll be doing some advice around that is all things, we don't realise that could happen to a building and helping to educate people about that is really important. And then we work a lot in the workplace sector. So, from the delivery of offices to the change management of the interior of offices as well. So, we we've been able to work with clients to understand the implications around that and and that's an ongoing conversation. You know, BCO are looking at, and lots of people are looking at that and in terms of what is the impact in terms of how we return short term, and long term as well. So, see, there's a lot of work going on there. But each time and I keep saying clients each time we're doing this by asking our clients, what's going on, and how we need to work with them to do it's a very collaborative process.
06:05  Ayo Abbas
Is that you're asking directly as a marketing team, or is it more from the people on the ground?
06:09  Liz Earwaker
It's people on the ground. And it will be a combination of those people on the ground. So, and as as well, we've got that ability to do that we run the programme anyway. And we're extending that across other initiatives that we're doing as well. So, so yeah, it isn't. It's a mixture of the both to be honest. And you know, we've that we have to be quite quick and responsive. But you know, we are a large company, and we're very diverse in the offer that we do. So, we found out in this period of time, you know, as much as this pandemic has been a result of our globalisation, to one extent that globalisation has come to our rescue as a company because we're able to reach across and go, we've got that so now that we can pull that in and help our client over in London from New York to look at an issue, you know, so we can we can stretch out to that and leverage it. Exactly. Yeah. So that's been quite. For others, a quite mind kind of open.
07:11  Ayo Abbas
And I guess you can look at the countries that are ahead in terms of, the pipeline, either what's been happening in terms of COVID? Yeah. And look what's happening there as well for learning and use that across the rest of the organisation as well.
07:22  Liz Earwaker
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
07:24  Ayo Abbas
It's very powerful. It's quite a place to be in it is. Okay. And in terms of, I guess, the final face it, you're kind of starting to transition to in terms of recovery as people are reopening and the future? What kind of things are you considering and on that aspect?
07:45  Liz Earwaker
It's interesting, really, because, I mean, from a marketing point of view, we have always, for the past two years, actually, we've issued a report called the Future of Infrastructure. And the first year was was talking to our clients and it was independent research into where they saw the fruits of infrastructue. The second year was talking to citizens across 10 cities. And that that threw up some research as well. And each time these were thought leadership led reports and each time we responded by looking at the key issues that came out and delivering thought leadership around that either as ourselves or working with our clients on that. So, really trying to understand where is the future of our our cities and urban environments going? Okay, we were issuing that report again this year, and it was literally around the time we went into lockdown. So very fast, and I didn't lead this. It's very much an integrated approach across the whole of AECOM to deliver this report because
08:48  Ayo Abbas
It's a massive report
08:49  Liz Earwaker
Yes it's is very wide ranging. But being part of it, I've seen that what's happened is that in a very short period of time, we've we've had to turn the lens on that one and look at everything that we've prepared around it through the COVID eyes. Really? Yeah. And as a result, you know, we've we've brought forward a few things we've we've been able to highlight key things. I mean, we've already seen and this is widely talked about and I'm sure you've had this with many people you've talked to on this excellent podcast Ayo, is that you know, our lens has changed because we've seen changes that we probably didn't expect to happen as so fast as they did. We're talking about air quality, we're talking about localism, you know, we're talking about all those things that we've seen very much present and very much written about as well. And when we've brought that into the report and started to reposition that a bit more, and we've had good response internally from our people, and also from our clients already, we only issued this about three weeks ago. Really good responses. So yeah, that that's kind of what we've done. On the marketing side, I would say, but it's I think we're still though seeing there's going to be changes. And that to us that report isn't a kind of a moment in time. It's, it's a, it's a moving piece. That will
10:14  Ayo Abbas
I like that element. I think, yeah, I think that's the thing, isn't it? We were moving much more into agile kind of digital world. So actually having pieces of communications that aren't just a static brochure, yeah, you know, are actually digital. And you can add to it, it grows, as things develop than that so much. I guess it's a much more edgy, much more relevant piece of communication, which is, I think it's, you know, that clients will enjoy reading it and everyone enjoys reading it.
10:40  Liz Earwaker
Yeah. And you know, and did you say, we're marketers, and we're here to help tell the great stories that our professions are doing. We're here to interpret that. And, that's the power of doing thought leadership for us because you can tell those stories in different ways across that platform using different channels, you're reaching different touchpoints because everyone's got a different world view. So we're trying as hard as we can to make sure we touch on those with each of our clients.
11:14  Ayo Abbas
Talking of channels and have you introduced any new ones?
11:17  Liz Earwaker
Ummm have we introduced new ones . I mean, I think we all have haven't we you know what, right at the beginning, where we pride ourselves, we do Talking Without Limits is our event programme, which really again, how we Without limits is our thought leadership programme and when we take that to the road, on a roadshow and call that Talking Without Limits, you know, that road now is literally from your bedroom to your kitchen to your desk. So we've done that as well. So in the first, I think in the first two weeks we did our first Teams live, we had 100 people sign up, which would have been event which probably would have had about 60 people at. So it's been incredible in terms of, wow, this this really does work, actually. Yeah. And, and so yeah, that's, that's amazing. We've upped the game in terms of our podcasts as well, pretty much as you're doing as well. So we find that as a good medium because people are really starting to engage more in that way. And to be honest, for me, you know, there is a lot of communication at the moment I'm you know, we're very much overwhelmed by that. So, different ways to receive that. And I think often the way that we receive information through our phones, whilst looking out for the beautiful blue sky because there's no planes in it is a really good way you know, it's not looking at a screen which we're having to do all days or watching the news and consuming information like that is sometimes can be quite tiring. So it's great in terms of the different ways that platforms that we're being able to move into. But the other thing as well is our social media. So I think as you know, I think social media is is is massive in the world out there. But for our industry, we haven't used it enough. I don't think now we have
13:17  Ayo Abbas
I completely agree.
13:18  Liz Earwaker
Yeah. And, and there is so much power in it too, not to use that word in terms of, it's and a lot of our teams and the people I've been talking to, in our business, have reached back to us and said, we really want to do this because they see the need to do it, because it's the way that they can communicate with their clients. And they've seen it, their clients doing it as well. So it's been a long time coming, and I'm really pleased it's happened. It's a shame it's happened because of a pandemic, but our teams are really starting to engage well on it. And you know, we started out brilliant programmes and things like that to help people almost internal gamification who can do the best job but, really
14:03  Ayo Abbas
Are they enjoying it?
14:04  Liz Earwaker
Yeah, definitely, definitely enjoying it. I mean to be honest, everyone enjoys getting a response back from something they've written or you know, it's a bit like getting a call back. You've done you've put a call out, someone's called. Great. Thanks for calling back. Yeah. I think you know that they're really starting to engage with that. And but for us, it's about giving them the tools to do that not only, press the button here share here, but giving them the language and the thought leadership that they can use. I mean, it's not it's our thought leadership is interpreting what they do into really good stories that they can then they can then share.
14:44  Ayo Abbas
And also them putting their own spin on it. I'm not a big fan of just sharing and not adding some kind of value or comment to it. I do think you do need to turn around and give your opinion and your take because I think that just adds your own individual kind of line to it as well.
14:59  Liz Earwaker
Yeah. mean, you know Ayo, I mean, how do you give people the confidence to do that? I think that's, that's a really big, philosophical thing. Really? I suppose. Yeah. How do you build that?
15:09  Ayo Abbas
I think you build that over time and confidence once you start to see it happening, but I mean, to be honest, it could be a sentence of you know, I'm pushed into this so yeah, this resonated with me It could literally just be that it doesn't need to be Shakespeare. Not that I've ever written Shakespeare on LinkedIn but maybe I'll try next week. And in terms of lockdown, do you think there's some of the things and the learnings that are coming out of it that you'll keep on doing as a team?
15:39  Liz Earwaker
Yes. Because it's happening so fast. That it all seems quite natural now that feels like Well, didn't we do this before?
15:53  Ayo Abbas
We're comfortable I'm actually comfortable in lockdown, which is like, you know, this kind of transitional feel. Am I actually I feel okay now.
15:59  Liz Earwaker
Yeah. I think what we find, I think what everyone is finding, and maybe particularly so in this industry because we thrive on meeting people, the things that we do in our business in the built environment is creating great places for people. So that's about understanding how those people work. And really, really responding to that and going and talking to them about it. So, you know, I think as we come out if we've got great tools that helped us exist when we're all in lockdown, but when we're not all how do we make that work? Yes, for everyone. It's really what I'm interested in seeing your work, you know, I'm sure everyone's okay. In terms of real estate. How are we we've all we've all enjoyed. We've all seen the pain. We've all made it work working remotely and being constantly on teams or zoom or whatever platform you are. So you know, and it gets that point where someone says, Well, I'm going to go meet him in a coffee shop and I'm okay. I was working from home Today, I can't do that. So how do you make that work? I think is
17:05  Ayo Abbas
that hybrid model going forward? Yeah. What I have in my head is like, I guess you need to work. You need to know how you're going to communicate with people who are in the office, and give that same experience to those who are home as well. Yeah, I think we've got quite a lot to work through personally. And I guess, I'm going to go even further back now. So looking back, when we had, I guess, our last kind of major recession in the industry, which was around 2008/2009 when Lehman Brothers went, and what was your kind of experience there? I think you were Clarkbond.
17:40  Liz Earwaker
I was Yeah, I mean, it's funny. I've been in industry a long time and i've I've probably seen two. I left, I joined the job market in a recession just at the end of one and, weirdly, that's actually, when I went into marketing. And that's what I felt like Yeah, because I mean, I didn't start off in it at all. I mean, I'm a art historian I love that the kind of imagery. So I was I yeah, I moved into I went to work for BDP on that side, but whilst I was there that I got very much engaged in the marketing and thought you know what I, I really like this. I love writing. I like the influence that you can have I love imagery that the two come together and here it is. So it's, I really, and I joined I was in this industry as well, because I saw that it was one that I it made a difference to people and I could help those people who are making difference people make a difference. So you know, I was like, Oh my god, I could really be an adult. Yeah, it's just amazing. So that was funny how that in a recession, I saw marketing as being a great opportunity, and I fell in love with it. And then in 2008, I was actually at Clarkebond and then I moved As well, I moved from one to another. So I was at Clarkbond, and I was working there in terms of helping them rebrand. So in a way, it was great timing for them because they rebranded and were better, more differentiated position to help them get through the recession.
19:17  Ayo Abbas
And knew who they were and what they needed to say what they were going for.
19:21  Liz Earwaker
Exactly, which is what you need, you know, it's not just a logo, it's what it is you personify in terms of what your brand is. But I moved to a large American firm KPF an architectural firm, and what we found ourselves working on there, I mean, they did deliver very tall buildings across the world. And they're excellent, excellent architects, but the recession, obviously, where the investment going to come, how many more of those buildings are going to be built? So we looked at quite a big campaign around repositioning and refurbishment and that's again, what we're looking at now so you know, these things have cycles, they do have cycles, but they have different lenses each time and the lens this time is about repositioning and refurbishment rebuild. Or what is it you know, in terms of our estates in terms of our buildings in terms of our high streets but this time it's different lenses is making sure that they're safe they're healthy and I think probably in more so as we start to deal with a pandemic is the net zero sustainability much more and in 2008 you know, that aspect was dropped because it was seen as too expensive. This time, it won't be it one it's the law in the UK so there's a legality around it, but to we've all seen the benefits we all think we cannot return. So it's nice to know now clients are saying that not just
20:43  Ayo Abbas
and there's a movement, there's a groundswell you can definitely feel about it
20:48  Liz Earwaker
actually you just gave me goosebumps there because it you know, you saying groundswell it does feel like that and we've all got to, we've got to we've got a part to play in that. So that's that's something that we're definitely Focusing on
21:06  Ayo Abbas
And looking back at two recessions that you've been through because not just that one, and what do you what are any kind of key takeaways or key things that you'd learned man that you apply to what you're doing now?
21:21  Liz Earwaker
I think this has always been the case too. It's really about being agile. Yeah, in planning.I mean, some of that is coincidental. You know,as in, let me give an example. Our focus, I'm looking at commercial buildings has been has been around the housing crisis. So what is the residential sector look like? has been around our streets. How do they thrive if retail is on a downturn if air pollution is high in all these things so and we haven't had to change those but we've had to be an agile on how we respond and talk about them. But learning from this is being able to respond and our profession as marketers working within companies is being able to find those people who can help you do that. Who those people who can help you pivot and help deliver something that talks to those quite quickly. So I think that's what is agile and knowing and having your fingers out to people who can help you turn that round and help them talk about it as well. So I think that's probably the key thing all the time is just to be agile and not be adamant. Go Well, no, we will stick we're gonna do that. I'm going to do that. You know. And so yeah, I think I think that's probably one thing and then and overriding always overriding is You just have to always get to grips with and understand what the client need is. So, you know, constantly listening to the client, constantly engaging with the client, and empowering our people to do that, really empower them to pick up the phone and do that quite quickly. That is invaluable. You can't just walk around thinking we know what we're doing and just deliver something it has to be on the basis of we know that they want to hear this.
23:27  Ayo Abbas
What people did people feel confident to pick up the phone, or was it one of those we had to kind of chisel people along?
23:34  Liz Earwaker
I think people are, there's always a chisel isn't there's always a, you have to do it yourself, don't you? So?
23:41  Ayo Abbas
I do. Yeah.
23:43  Liz Earwaker
It's not an easy one. But
23:46  Ayo Abbas
what am I gonna say? I think
23:48  Liz Earwaker
you know, it's really interesting in any crisis, but this crisis was quite different in that everyone is in the same boat. You know, it's almost it's almost an easier game to pick up the phone. Because we are all trying to deal with exactly the same issues that are personal, very personal as well as economic. So I think, you know, that's lets use that personal side of it to really start to engage. I think
24:17  Ayo Abbas
I've got my final two questions for you. So, at the moment during lockdown, has there been any kind of standout marketing campaign when you've gone? I love that it's the best thing I've seen
24:29  Liz Earwaker
Yeah, there's anything if there's one, I don't I think a stand out marketing campaign is a difficult one, I would probably say more in terms of who's been communicating the most effectively, maybe, because, to me, we've been overwhelmed. I've already mentioned that earlier on, we're very overwhelmed with what's going on and all the information that's been thrown at us or we're consuming. So to market in that is a difficult one. But to communicate effectively in it is good and it is very subjective. And we'll go back to the marketers telling stories, and access businesses, where we all should be telling stories. But we all should be doing that very much in a way that responds to what people want. So has to be responding to certain people's worldview. So, you know, what I'm about to tell you is, what I'm probably about to say is very, very much what's worked for me and successful for me, will probably tell you more about me than it would about that company. So, y I think, for me in our industry, it's Squire and Partners, actually, architects, and mostly because they have values that are very clear and are very relevant now. And they've done a very good job in communicating that consistently from before. And now in terms of the locality, they've they've moved to Brixton, they've brought back to life a department store. They support the Stephen Lawrence Trust, you know, all of these things that really are fantastic values that they lived before and they continue to live now. And to me that that is something I think they should be proud of and is a very good model of how you should live your brand and how it you should make sure it's always relevant to the people that you're talking to. And that's me for them. You know, that's been very successful.
26:33  Ayo Abbas
That's awesome. I will look more into them because I haven't really checked them out of late I have to admit.
26:39  Liz Earwaker
They're into localism you know, social inequity. They look at all of that. At the end of the day, they're an architectural practice, but that's their values. You know what they design needs to respond to those things that makes a difference to people's lives and that I think they do it brilliantly. You know, they made they made I know, many people do, but they've made some scrubs for the NHS. And now they're supporting an exhibition in the department store in in Brixton, which is a creative. So it's everyone who has been creative in lockdown is great, you know, so it's, it's great. I really, really like it and then I would be very remiss of me to not to mention AECOM.
27:20  Ayo Abbas
I do love what you're doing and I love your branding, and I love the stuff you're putting out. So you would actually be in my list. So yeah,
27:27  Liz Earwaker
I think it's strong. And I, you know, I urge people to have a look, just in terms of how we as an industry need to come together and collaborate better in terms of what you tell, that we're able to do for people in their lives. And, you know, we're all here to build really great environments, as our industry so I'm really proud of the work that we do at AECOM in terms of delivering that messaging in a strong, well received good story, way.
27:57  Ayo Abbas
We love stories and what would your one tip better business leaders in terms of how they should market themselves going forward during this crisis? Just one
28:07  Liz Earwaker
just one, just a word. I'm gonna be annoying to Ayo because it's really difficult to do one, isn't it?
28:12  Ayo Abbas
Okay, go on. Okay,
28:14  Liz Earwaker
now I say one I say one, but it's a collective one. Okay. The one is, remember that you've got multiple facets and multiple tools, your at your disposal. Yeah, that you can use effectively at any point. So it's not about you know, the CEO, talking and projecting what he thinks you've got a whole army of marketers out there. And I'm not talking about you and me, Ayo, I am talking about all those people on the ground that they are your constant face of the business. So always use that your army really to help communicate and that means you've got to be quick to talk to them, and let them understand what you're doing as a business. Quick to give them the tools, whether that be using social media or quick, to give them, events, like we've run the online events, as I said, quick to give them things that they can use they can use to continue having those conversations. So yeah, you know, and at the end of the day, you've got to make sure that you've got a brand that you can fall back on to do all this a brand that really does fulfil that promise really, you know, surviving that. Surviving any recession, any crisis, anything, you've got to have really good value. So in a way, that's, that's
29:33  Ayo Abbas
It's an awesome tip. Thank you so much, Liz on for being such a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant guest. And yeah, and I'll speak again to you soon. Thank you. Thanks. Bye Thanks so much for listening to Marketing In Times of Crisis. I really do appreciate you taking time out of your day to tune in. Check out the show notes for useful links, including my website where you can find out more about everything featured today and how to get in touch. We're a new podcast so if you like what you've heard, please do subscribe so that you never miss an episode and more people get to hear about us.