Wally is senior vice president of federal marketing for HDR Engineering. He has more than 35 years of industry experience working for engineering and construction firms. Based in Salt Lake City, Wally is responsible for business development, major pursuits, and proposals for HDR’s Federal program.


As a firm principal/leader, what have you done to create a marketing mentality in your firm/office?

I’m passionate about marketing, actually about pursuing and winning new work! When people come up with a great layout, a new way to present our experience, or a killer slide for a presentation, I promote it to others. I make our great marketing work visible to others, including operations and technical staff. With three decades of experience winning work and building businesses, I love teaching others and feel like I have a lot to give back to my colleagues.


In what ways is marketing in our industry important?

In the AEC industry, you’re either winning work, doing the work, or counting the money. It’s a three-legged stool: marketing, operations, and finance. A business doesn’t function, or even exist, without a strong marketing component.


Is there someone who mentored you about marketing mentality? 

I worked under a program manager, Robert Wallace, for many years as a young engineer and then as an emerging project manager. Robert spent an enormous amount of time with clients. I could stand outside his door for 15 or 20 minutes, waiting to ask him a question about a project, while he talked on the phone to a client. He would basically ignore me in favor of whomever he was talking to. But I didn’t go away and come back. Instead, I’d listen and learn as he talked and ignored.

Nelson Lund was a retired Army Colonel who got HDR into the Federal market. He would take me on client visits and show me how to walk the halls, visiting with clients about the work we were doing for them or projects they had coming up.

The person who probably had the greatest impact on me from a marketing perspective was Bob Vandervort. He taught me how to get to higher levels in a client organization, how to cross sell our services, and how to write compelling narrative and tell a story in our proposals. These three people mentored me for the first 15 years of my career. They were doing BD before we ever used the term, business development!


How do you get non-marketing staff involved in/excited about supporting marketing efforts?

I talk to them a lot. I find out what they’re interested in and what experience they have in marketing. People who have never sold work or developed a proposal will take a little more hand holding than someone who’s been down that road before. There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach. Start small and look for quick wins to make them successful. Instead of giving a busy person a management section to write, schedule time to interview them about how they deliver the great work they do. Put their ideas into writing, provide a draft, and let them critique it. Winning new work always excites people. And giving credit to people who helped make that possible is a huge motivator.


What is the best way you have found to get your technical staff involved? 

Similar to above, spend time with them. Talk to them. I show technical staff examples of what we write and produce for marketing—whether that’s an overview handout for a client meeting, a quals statement for a service area or market segment, or a proposal. I’ll prepare a storyboard as a basis for discussion so people can see how we think and organize our marketing content. Sometimes I go “old school” during a proposal and hang things up on a wall. The visual impact is huge, and eye opening for many (even experienced people). I also try to take advantage of their technical and client knowledge. Bring them into the conversation by enabling them to “be the expert.” They know how we do the work, and I know how to assemble their thoughts into a responsive proposal. We need each other.


What are three tips you give your marketing coordinators to help them progress and evolve in their role?

  1. Arrange a trip to visit a project site with technical staff to see and hear about the work they do. 

  2. When possible, attend client meetings and interviews.

  3. Take advantage of external training through webinars and conference attendance. HDR supports organizations like SMPS, SAME, and others who provide great, relevant content to help marketing staff learn more about our business.


What marketing-related training do you provide within your company?

HDR had an entire curriculum from basic to advanced topics (Marketing 201, 301, … 601). They were one- to two-day sessions, held in person. The most advanced might include a series of meetings over the course of 6+ months to tackle large pursuits or complex client organizations. A lot of people went through these trainings and HDR developed a real marketing culture. COVID and cost have gotten us really focused lately. The core of our current marketing curriculum is pursuit planning and interview preparation. The two programs, Plan to Win and Client Centered Presentations, are offered in person or in a virtual format. 


How does your marketing team interact with your business development team?

Most of our business development is done by client managers, client development leaders, or market sector directors [that’s our internal vernacular, but you get the picture]. Our marketing team is involved in the entire lifecycle of pursuing new contracts and projects. We attend capture planning meetings, work side-by-side with others to develop proposal content, and are heavily engaged supporting interviews.


What are the biggest hurdles your team/office/firm faces related to marketing?

  • Too many opportunities, too few resources (people and time)

  • Finding and retaining great staff

  • Providing a clear career path and professional advancement opportunities


What are ways your marketing could improve or reach the next level?

From a corporate perspective, I’d like to see a stronger focus on Client Experience (Cx). Our history, reputation, brand, and story are all great. Like most firms, we rely on repeat business. Client management isn’t good enough anymore. We also need to focus. The infrastructure market has recently been, is now, and will remain strong. There’s a lot of money and projects, to chase. We need to pick our targets, go all in, and win more than our fair share of the work.

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