Association of British Orchestras


Jo Johnson

Senior Marketing Manager, Digital, London Symphony Orchestra

As the newest role to emerge in the field of Arts Administration, the description of what a Digital Manager is and does is difficult to pin down. Orchestras (and other Arts) are still getting to grips with the enormous, sometimes expensive and always fast-moving world of Digital, and consequently each organisation has a slightly different way of dealing with it. For example, as you can see from my job title, I work in the Marketing Department, yet the LSO also has a Digital Projects Manager working in the Education Department; you will also find Digital Managers with their own Digital Departments, some within IT Departments, and some organisations without anyone with the word Digital or Online in their job title at all!

What is clear though is that digital and online are extremely important to orchestras today, and the good news is that the need for Digital Managers is unlikely to go away any time soon. After all, the opportunities provided by the internet to reach new and different audiences, often far removed from your geographical base, are too good to ignore!

Now for the tricky bit - what do we actually do? The list of possible things that you can do is pretty much endless (a bit like the internet!), but of course there's only 24 hours in a day, so we have to choose our activities carefully. All orchestras will be different, but a typical Digital Manager might find themselves:

looking after the main website, updating daily with content and commissioning new developments;
designing, writing and sending email marketing, including monthly e-newsletters and targeted marketing emails;

writing, producing, recording, editing and publishing podcasts;

writing, producing, making, editing and publishing video content, or more often project managing a company making video for you;

updating social networks daily, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and responding to people's questions and comments;

sending SMS (text) messages;

writing and publishing blogs;

planning and buying online advertising space;

building microsites, or commissioning them from external web agencies

In summary, a Digital Manager does a little bit of everything involving anything to do with technology, and works with everyone from the Managing Director to the actual musicians making the music, and with colleagues in every admin department. Varied would be an adequate description of my day, with a flexible approach to planning my workload to accommodate the latest must-do-right-now thing. My favourite way of describing the required flexibility is to say that my job today in no way resembles the job I took on in 2005!

If you're thinking of getting into Digital, then you'll need, as ever, a good range of skills. But the first myth to debunk is that Digital Managers need to be geeks and spend their evenings and weekends hunched over a laptop, typing endless lines of code. Thankfully wonderful inventions (by geeks!) called Graphical User Interfaces mean that if you are basically competent on a computer, you can manage a website. A little bit of knowledge about how websites, servers and firewalls work together doesn't go amiss though, and some basic HTML comes in very handy indeed. Manipulating images, for example in Photoshop, is a must, and some basic video and audio editing skills are useful. Good writing skills, particularly the ability to communicate something in not more than 140 characters as well as in nice flowery prose, are essential. An interest in the Next Big Thing and curiosity (being nosey!) about what others are up to will help you keep ahead of the curve.

You will also need to be a good communicator. It's not good enough to create a beautifully crafted website, podcast, video, blog, advert or microsite, you have to be able to tell people that it exists and to know the best way of doing this - consequently most Digital Managers are heavy users of the internet and social media themselves, and will often work strangely unsociable hours to be able to communicate with the audience when they're at their most active outside of office hours!

Being a relatively new role, most Digital Managers you speak to today won't have had a clear-cut career path. I am probably fairly typical in having done a degree in Music, an internship in a chamber orchestra, a first paid job in Marketing for a symphony orchestra, and then moved sideways into Digital as the only person in the orchestra with an interest in it at the time! But like everyone working in the Arts, what Digital Managers will have in common is a love and knowledge of the thing that their organisation does.

For me the best bit about this job is the interaction I have with the LSO's loyal and passionate audience. Digital communication is two-way: yes, I produce and distribute all the wonderful content, but it's also a way for the audience to speak back to us about what they've seen and heard. And they do, all the time, in huge numbers, and with a passion that I think is unrivalled in any other industry. When I read how much the LSO means to people, and that I've helped in some small way to bring them closer to the Orchestra, that's when I know that I'm in the right job and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Annual Conference

The next ABO conference will take place in Bristol,
hosted by Bristol Beacon, from 24-26 January 2024.