Fireside Chat Three With Samuel Cairnduff of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

We're ending our 2021 live video podcast Asia-Pacific Fireside Chat Series on a high note. Our final chat, Chat Three, features Samuel Cairnduff, Director - Marketing and Public Affairs at the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

He shared some great marketing leadership insights, including:

- His most successful engagement strategies
- How he’s overcome marketing challenges
- How he inspires and leads his team, and more

Read the transcript to soak up the marketing, digital, and engagement learnings from this riveting chat.

Fireside Chat Three featuring Samuel Cairnduff

Check out the recap of the interview between Monsido's Naomi Kroll and Samuel Cairnduff of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra below.
Naomi: Thanks for tuning in today for Monsido’s third Fireside Chat. Lovely to have you here today as we finish off the year, inspiring marketing and digital leaders. I'm here with Samuel Cairnduff, who's the Director of Marketing and Public Affairs at Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO).

Samuel has been the Director of Marketing Communications at Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra since 2017 and has now more recently moved into the Director of Marketing and Public Affairs role. In his role at TSO, he leads strategy in the areas of audience development, marketing, sales and communications, as well as overseeing the TSO corporate partnership portfolio, government, and community stakeholder management.

He proudly leads a team that has been responsible for the most significant subscription and sales results during TSO’s history. Sam has a strong background in media and communications, particularly in the arts sector, and he's worked and performed all over the world.

Sam, what's your career journey been like? How did you get to where you are now?

Sam: Really lovely to be here with you today.

Yes, I started my career as a musician, so I was a pianist playing a lot of jazz. Jazz piano was a big passion of mine when I was a young guy and yeah, took me on a wonderful journey around the world, working firstly on cruise ships. And then I ended up spending 11 years in London where I played.

I was privileged to play in a lot of the most beautiful hotels in London, the Savoy and the Dorchester and Carriages. And around that time I started my own marketing company as well, marketing in the entertainment and arts industry, mainly theater and classical music and jazz, and producing tours around the UK and in Europe and sort of got into arts marketing that way.

I was blessed to sort of come back to my home state of Tasmania in 2016, late 2016 and start working with the TSO. It's interesting to sort of look back over the last 20 years and think, you know, the places that you've been and the things you've done, but it's lovely to be working in this industry now.

Naomi: That sounds like a lot of fun. Working overseas, being involved in the creative industry, and marketing being a very creative business function in itself. That sounds like a lot of fun.

Sam: Yeah, it was a lot of that. It was sort of one of those things that I wanted to start producing concerts and producing theater. And because I was a one-man operation in my former company. And so by necessity, you sort of teach yourself how to market and do PR and communications. I found out that I really enjoyed it. My background was in media at university, so it sort of fell out of all of that. I've been lucky to continue that career journey from producing through to marketing for a beautiful organization like the TSO.

What do you enjoy most about your current role?

Sam: Every day, I'm privileged to be working in this industry because the music that the TSO produces is sublime. So you're working in a marketing sphere, you're working with the most beautiful product. I have no hesitation about talking passionately about the product that we sell or that we produce because it just is such an amazing thing. There's nothing more transformative or sublime than the sound of a Symphony Orchestra playing at its peak.
And so I'm very proud of what we produce, but not only the work that we do on stage, but the work that we do offstage. The community work, the education, the outreach, working with marginalized communities, bringing the power of classical music and powerful orchestral music into people's lives. It's such a privilege to be able to sort of work in that every day. It's just amazing.
"I have no hesitation about talking passionately about the product that we sell or that we produce because it just is such an amazing thing. There's nothing more transformative or sublime than the sound of a Symphony Orchestra playing at its peak."

How did you lead your team and TSO’s marketing through covid? It's been a very hard time for the arts, but also for not for profit. How did you handle that?

Sam: It was such a shock to all of us. I think everyone suffered shock with COVID because it was just, you know, the most fundamental, monumental change in our lives that we've ever seen, and particularly in the arts, not being able to do your core activity of performing live concerts.

For us, we were at the beginning of a season. We're just literally started a Brahms festival, which was the start of our 2020 season. We'd proudly sort of commenced that, and everything had to be scrapped. And from a marketing perspective, we produced this beautiful brochure and beautiful artwork for a whole year's worth of concerts that had to be basically just shelved and put aside.

And so there was, I think for our team, it was a sense of probably grief in a sense, and certainly for the artistic planning team because they put so much work into putting together this massive jigsaw of international conductors, international soloists and orchestral scheduling. It's a very complicated process. And of course, just to have all that basically overnight put to one side, which was difficult.

But then you think about what's important. What's important to us was being there for our audiences, being there for our loyal customers, keeping up that engagement. So really, our laser focus switched from that sense of grief to how we're going to make this work, how we're going to be able to keep our institution evolving and propelling. How can we keep connected to our very loyal customers and be there?

So we came up with a whole bunch of initiatives, not surprisingly, all digital and that took all our attention and all our focus for the rest of the year and was a fantastic project to work on. So out of that shock and loss, we just had to reshape and refocus our way of working and find a way through.

How did you keep your customers, patrons, and partners engaged not only during COVID, but also coming out of that now.

Sam: We've sort of had to rethink the whole way that we connect with people and keep engaged with them, I guess, with our customers. It's about being there and being as accessible as possible, finding ways through, and also recognizing that people's habits have shifted and changed.

When you take a habit of 20 or 30 years and it's all of a sudden change when you're not going to a concert every Friday night for a period of a year or so. We had to rethink how we're going to connect with people.

The digital connection has been huge for us because it's not just a way of effectively just bringing a concert to your screen or your computer screen. It's a whole means of sort of social interactions and transactions that we need to rethink. Things like intervals and interval drinks and post concert drinks, we've had to rethink how we do that in a digital sense.

And it's been really exciting because we've had to think creatively about doing Zoom drinks as a permanent fixture to the end of our concerts and how we act like a digital concierge. You know, people want to ask us questions. They want to engage with us and ask questions.

Our fantastic box office manager has set up this whole system of being available for a period of time every week where she just literally takes questions about anything to do with them, with the TSO or any of our products, or just to connect just to have a chat. So thinking about people's social isolation and how we do that with partners, we've had to think about new ways of finding value and creating value.

It's really vital when we're engaging, particularly with corporate partners, to leverage the creative potential of the tier. So making partners realize what value we can bring to their business and then they understand why partnering with us is a really great thing. It's not like partnering with any other organization.

So we're constantly leveraging creativity in the organization to demonstrate that value to people in the marketplace, people in the corporate sphere, but also just to try and keep that engagement going all the time.

What's one marketing challenge that you've overcome?

Sam: I don't know if we've overcome it, but I'd say it's something that we're constantly addressing on almost a daily basis is that orchestra music is very much a heritage art form. It's from a bygone era. It's music that is from the past.

Making that relevant to people's everyday lives or their current contemporary lives and making them see how music and this experience into their life is a really valuable thing. It's something that really uplifts their life, has the power to kind of transform their lives and transform their moods and their feelings in a very sort of simple way, but also in very profound ways, is a message that we're constantly trying to deliver when we're marketing classical music.

It's very easy to think of classical music as something that is from the distant past. It's not relevant to this current contemporary life, but it actually is, you know. I see my role as a marketer in orchestral music is trying to join the dots of that relevance and make people realize that this is something that can add potentially a huge amount of value and a huge amount of uplifting energy into their lives.

Then when you've got an audience that's very rusted on and very attached to the art form, they're trying to build a new audience. So looking at different generations and how to get them across the threshold to experience their first orchestral concert and realize what an amazing experience. It is, this is what we're doing all the time. So we do it through new products and new kinds of experiences. The way that you experience concerts is really important.

People have certain ideas around a concert being a certain kind of experience. We try to sort of break that up a little bit and break down some of the barriers that people might perceive to attending concerts. Just simple things like when to clap and the kind of information that they received before the concert. The communication is really important. And the way we present and package and sort of direct the concert experience towards those new markets is really important.

So I think the major challenge for anyone working in the heritage art form is just to keep really emphasizing that relevance and demonstrating it to particularly new audiences, that this is something that is worth putting some time in to have a try because it could be life changing for them.

Naomi: Thanks so much for sharing about that. I know personally, I've been listening to a lot of classical music while I study. I have a productivity playlist which doesn't have any lyrics on it because when we're working on something, we don't want to be hearing many words at the same time.

So I've actually really been enjoying classical music for study music, and I've seen other people take that up too. So hopefully we can have a bit of a trend there as well for focus and mindfulness and relaxation, having that music make a comeback.

Sam: Totally, yeah. Well, it's an era now where people are curating their own leisure more than ever, you know, people over the age of Netflix and, you know, streaming services, you know, surrounding us.

For us to sort of play into that, that market and how we can actually really kind of direct people's perception of the music and what you've just talked about is a perfect example. Music to study and there's nothing better than just to have in the background while you're studying than classical music.

What advice do you have for leading marketing teams?

Sam: The most important thing to me when you build a team is to think about diversity of skills, diversity perspectives and diversity of life experience because it all plays into how people will approach a project or approach a piece of communication.

The biggest mistake I can make is thinking that, you know, 'I've got the, kind of, the line of sight on every potential market', because I never will have [it], you know?
Having a diverse team that has the capacity to really reflect the markets that they're familiar with and feed into the work is really important.

As a leader, when things are going really well, I can just sort of step back and let that work happen because I trust that my team has such a solid and robust comprehension of the market's drivers and inhibitors. In a sense that can really shape and scope the messaging in a way that will be the most effective.

So I'd say thinking about building a team at that very fundamental stage, making sure that they're diverse and that they're bringing a lot of their own kind of perceptions and their instincts into that team to drive what the outputs they create is really, really important.

Naomi: I love that. When we have more diverse opinions, we come up with more diverse ideas, and it's better for everyone. It seems to be a recurring theme in the Fireside Chats. Diverse teams are a win for marketing leadership (if you've missed the past two chats as well).

How does the marketing team support the TSO education, engagement and training arms as well?

Sam: It's vitally important from a communication perspective to amplify the messages of the activity that takes place, that's not on the stage. What happens on stage is very, very visible and it's really important for us to make sure that people understand what an amazing, uplifting performance that is. But at the same time, there's a lot of work that happens in the background, work with schools, work with community groups, work with prisons, for example.

It’s really valuable work that is not necessarily visible to the public eye, but it's very important for us as a publicly funded organization to demonstrate the public value that we're delivering. We receive 80% of our funding from the government, from state and federal government, mainly federal.

So it's really, really important for us as an organization to communicate and demonstrate that work that we're doing back into the community, that value that's been invested into us, that we're delivering back to the community that we serve. The work that sort of sits behind the scenes is the work that's really, really important to amplify.

And we do that through a very robust PR strategy through communicating to the government. And in my role in public affairs, I’m talking to the government all the time and making sure that they're across that work is really important. It's very easy to sort of look at the big concerts and the standing ovations and the applause and everyone dressed up beautifully. And that's one side, and that's a very, very important part of what we do.

But it's really also important to make sure that these background stories are coming out as well, because that's the ones that are going to reinforce our value to the community and just make people understand that we do so much more than just perform concerts. I think that's where we have to consciously make an effort to make sure those stories flow through.

What's one mistake or failure that you've made as a marketing leader and what did you learn?

Sam: This is a trap that I think a lot of people probably fall into, and I’ve certainly done this several times and try consciously not to. But I think for us marketing and communicating an art form or any product, really, it's always a balance between what you instinctively feel about the market, what the market wants and what the market actually wants.

I know earlier in my career I sort of had a very good sense, I believed I had a very good sense of what the market would like, and I scoped all my marketing activity around those beliefs. They weren't necessarily backed up with data or conversations or actual, you know, going up there and gathering that information and backing up what I was doing. So I had an extra level of confidence.

By the same token, if you just do a data driven approach and you ignore all those instincts, you're not doing yourself a good service, too. So what I've learned over the years is to have a really good balance and trust your instincts because, you know, the more you immerse yourself in an industry and the more you immerse yourself in a product and the more you get to know your audience and your market, the more you understand what is motivating them.

But you also want to keep asking those questions and keep doing the focus groups, keep doing the surveys. They've so valuable, just those research conversations that you have just on the sidelines feed into what you do and give you that kind of confidence that what you're instinctively thinking is right or isn't what you know. And if it's not right, there might be a blind spot or a gap in your understanding of your market. And then it's great to know that too.

I know we've learned a few times that we've set up to do something with an intention in mind. And when we've done a little bit of research, and I'm not talking about anything huge, but just some focus groups or some conversations or a survey, you're finding that you might be sort of skewing slightly in the wrong direction or it's slightly nuanced. You need to make a little change.

And that's really valuable because ultimately you're going to have a better outcome if you've got a more robust background to what you're doing. But as I said, trust your instincts and get to know your market, what you believe and what you feel for that market. Back it up with some robust data gathering as well.

What do you do to keep learning?

Sam: For me, it's a constant thing, I'm one of these people that loves studying. In the last two years I just completed an MBA, which I found really valuable because it's an MBA, as I'm sure everyone watching would know is such a rounded qualification. It takes you in so many different areas of management and administration.

So for me to get just out of my marketing box and think about things like HR and finance and economics and human resource management and strategy was really valuable and fed into all my all my work that I do now.

And I've just started this year, a PhD in cultural leadership. I'm basically sort of giving away all my free time and happily happily focusing on that. So I love studying, but you know, I love also looking at what other organizations are doing globally in our industry, in other industries as well, and having conversations like my team is fantastic.

I'm going to have a couple of amazing people on my team and one person in particular who's got a very close connection with the US, and she's often talking to the US and talking to other organizations over there and her peers from when she was there and getting brilliant ideas that bring them back.

So those conversations with the team really feed into our strategy and help us to develop bigger projects and bigger ideas than we just have sitting in Tasmania and thinking about how we can do things. I think just constantly being open to things and looking at other possibilities and looking at how your peers on the international sphere are doing things is really valuable.
Naomi: Thanks. That brings us to the end of the Fireside Chat Series, but also our chat today. We’ve had Chat One with Bec Goulter from the National Retail Association, Chat Two with Phil Chapman from Mission Australia, and we've just had a chat with Samuel Canada from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Thanks for joining us today, Sam.
Sam: It's been lovely to join you and thanks so much for the invitation. If anyone wants to jump on to the TSO website, we have a fantastic digital offering. You can get in there and enjoy some concerts wherever you are in Australia or in the world, in fact.

We'd love to welcome you to our world.
Keep up with Sam on LinkedIn, and visit the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra's website.

Follow Naomi on LinkedIn and be sure to check out the rest of our Fireside Chats!