Toccacelli on top

A few days after a tsunami struck southeast Asia, EDS Canada senior vice-president James Toccacelli was given a mission: figure out some way to make a difference.

He called on a contact at World Vision Canada who told him EDS’s

help wasn’t needed. A day later that changed, when the charity got involved in the televised concert that would be raising money to rebuild communities. They needed technical help, and fast.

“It was the proudest moment I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Toccacelli. “The things we asked our guys to do, if it had been for any other client, would have taken a month. They did it in less than a week.”

Toccacelli says these kind of projects represent an important internal communications strategy that builds up the corporate culture in one of the world’s largest IT services organizations. Toccacelli was recently recognized for his contribution to communications when he received the Philip A. Novikoff Award by the Canadian Public Relations Society earlier this month. Pipeline spoke to Toccacelli about some of his achievements.

Pipeline: There’s a lot more awareness of outsourcing since you joined EDS five years ago. How have you had to change your communications strategies as a result?

James Toccacelli: It’s important to make a distinction between outsourcing and offshoring. It troubles me personally to an extent that people use those words interchangeably. There is a huge difference: people have been outsourcing both IT and all kinds of non-core competency services for decades. The outsourcing trend is not terribly new. Offshoring, which is the outsourcing of work to other geographies because of the technology that allows it to happen is new. In terms of Canada, which is my major area of responsibility, the fact of the matter is that for EDS Canada, at least, we’re a net importer of jobs. So more Canadians are working at EDS Canada because of the offshoring phenomenon than are moving from Canada to the subcontinent or those other locations. So for us it’s kind of a good news economic development story. Given that more than 50 per cent of our client base is government, that presents two unique and sometimes conflicting problems. The first is that all governments, of course, love it when work is being brought to their jurisdiction, because it has positive implications on tax revenues and employment rates and all of those things, which is their equity. On the other hand, when you’re doing work for government, they don’t want any of that work happening outside of their borders, because of the optics of managing the government. If I was the government of Ontario, I would no more want to see the work done in India than I would want to see it done in Manitoba. They’re not in favour of offshoring from that point of view when it’s about them. That presents an interesting dilemma.

Pipeline: A lot of non-IT people are being brought in to help managing traditional outsourcing relationships. How has that affected the way you try to market to and reach your potential audience?

JT: The dilemma for people in my kind of role — which are people who are marketing in a business-to-business environment, not a business-to-consumer environment, and marketing a fairly specialized level of service – is that there are probably about 600 people in Canada who I need to understand the depth and breadth of EDS’s capabilities. I’m not Coca-Cola. I don’t need a high awareness among the general population. I don’t need positive psychological association with my brand among 18- to 24-year-olds. I don’t need any of those things. What I need is a really deep and full understanding of what we can do at the really senior level, the CXO suite of Canada’s largest companies. That presents a challenge, because EDS doesn’t do a lot of large-scale advertising, unlike our colleagues at IBM and Dell. And you know what? They should, and we shouldn’t. I’m not trying to sell desktops. I’m not trying to influence individuals’ purchasing decisions, and the people who are buying our services don’t do it because they like our most recent ad, they buy it because we have the proven capability to do it. They do it because we’ve done it somewhere else before, and because our price is competitive with what else they can get in response to their RFP. It’s a different marketing dilemma than most business-to-consumer marketers. 

Pipeline: You’ve been trying some new things, like a national security and privacy survey that was released in Canada early this year. What was the genesis behind that?

JT: It goes to the issue of trying to get the people who we care about to associate EDS with thought leadership in an area that they care about. Whether they’re specifically going to buy privacy and security services or not, it’s important that the association — whether it’s overt or covert with them – is, “EDS/privacy and security/doing good work/I’ve got to keep them in mind when this issue comes to the forefront again.”

Pipeline: EDS recently said it was working with the Wilcox Group as its agency of record. Why tap into a PR firm’s services at this point?

JT: There are two advantages. One is that Mat Wilcox is an extraordinary practitioner and I’ve known her for years. She recently opened a Toronto office, which gave us an opportunity to work together. The second important variable is that the person she hired to run the Toronto office, a guy by the name of Emile Lee, came to the Wilcox Group from EDS in Singapore. So I can talk in shorthand and he gets it. They’re a newer agency in Toronto, they’re younger, they’re hungrier. So far, and I’m convinced it’ll stay that way, they’ve delivered a superior return on investment compared to that which I could get from most other places. 

Pipeline: EDS has gone through some financial and accounting scandals in the United States. From a local Canadian perspective, how do you address something like that? Does it even matter to customers here?

JT: Oh, it matters to customers here, believe me. If there is an issue of significant global importance at EDS, my job and challenge is getting the information that they need quickly and painlessly and seamlessly into our client-facing people so that they know about it, and more importantly have the context to bring that to their clients. The normal protocol would be that I’d probably get an early heads up, I’d need to figure out how relevant this is to us. Some of them are more relevant than others. I’d have to deal with the translation issue of course, because most of the stuff has to go out in most official languages. And then create a kind of framework that allows me to communicate quickly with our client-facing people and give them the tools — and the tools more often than not are letters, talking points, questions and answers, videos if that’s what they need – in a situation like that you don’t usually have time to produce large, glitzy stuff. What I need is the sales guy in Saskatoon to tell his client about something good or bad about EDS before they read about it in the Globe and Mail, or

Pipeline: So many IT publications have shut down in the last five years, and even daily papers have cut back on their technology coverage. How has that changed your role as a media relations person?

JT: You’re right in terms of the numbers of opportunities are not as big as they used to be. But I’m not personally convinced that’s a bad thing. I think the market had grown to a point where it was too fragmented. There are clearly fewer and therefore competition for getting your news into them is more difficult than it used to be, but on the other hand, but I get the distinct impression – and I don’t have quantifiable statistics to defend it – but if a little piece of news is mentioned in some little publication somewhere, I hear about it. It used to be a big piece of news that got a lot of coverage in many publications, I wouldn’t hear anything about it. The concentration, if you will, of publications, I like to think has created a market where people can read this stuff and keep on top of it now.

Comment: [email protected]

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