Sophie Morris is a singer, actor, presenter and marketer who has performed to critical acclaim within New Zealand and internationally. Here she explains how these very different disciplines can complement each other, and what happens when her worlds collide.
Sophie Morris began singing aged 10 as Gretl in ‘The Sound of Music’ which sparked a love for being on the stage. Since then, some of her music highlights include performing roles in musical theatre (Sandy in Grease and Sophie in Mamma Mia), singing national anthems at many international sporting events such as the 2020 Rugby Championship, acting on Shortland Street, and touring with groups including Celtica. Equally as comfortable on stage as she is planning campaigns, Sophie reflects on how her seemingly contrasting interests actually might have more in common than we’d expect.
Which came first, music or marketing?
Although I didn’t sing from a super young age, it is probably fair to say I was quite a theatrical kid. I used to imitate famous singers (think Pavarotti, Celine Dion) and put on shows with my two sisters in our living room. Having grown up in a house filled with music, that love was always there, however I probably did learn to start thinking of angles and ticket sales by trying to convince our parents to watch our performances from the couch!
At about the age of 10, I remember sitting at the dinner table and my parents encouraging me to audition for The Sound of Music. I wasn’t too fussed about the idea but went along and auditioned anyway. I ended up getting cast as Gretl, supposedly because of my innocent young looks (according to our high school music teacher at the time). I loved being on stage and asked my parents if I could start getting some singing lessons after this. Fast forward to a number of years training, then meeting New Zealand singer Patricia Payne who had a great career as an international opera singer and took me on as her first ever pupil. I then continued my studies at university under great teachers such as Isabel Cunningham and found myself in the wonderful world of performing.
What do you love about performing?
To me nothing beats the thrill of live events and the magic you can share with an audience in that vacuum of time. A performance can be a massive exchange of energy and to see a full house on their feet having the time of their lives is one of the best feelings in the world. I have also been very fortunate to be able to travel and perform, seeing some beautiful places around the world and making wonderful friends along the way.
When did you discover your inner marketer?
I studied both music and marketing, gaining a Master of Music and Bachelor of Commerce from Otago University. I always had an interest in business, but didn’t quite know what. I think I found real interest in marketing through case competitions where I was lucky enough to travel to a number of competitions to represent Otago University in international case competitions, such as in Pamplona, Spain. After study I worked at a creative agency as a junior marketer. Following that I worked for a production and events company where I worked in both producing and marketing roles. After this my performance career got pretty busy and I travelled and performed as a freelancer, while continuing to contract marketing work and eventually setting up my own company.
How long have you been with NZ Opera, and how does one market opera to New Zealand?
I joined NZ Opera almost a year ago in October 2021. I had been living in Melbourne performing and came back to New Zealand when Covid blew up. Last year was meant to be very busy but I had a large number of postponed performances and tours around the country. When the whole of New Zealand went back into lockdown in August 2021 and I faced another raft of cancellations of work and continued closed borders. I started thinking about what other parts of life I would like to build back in New Zealand and discovered that NZ Opera were looking for a Marketing Manager. The number one role of marketing for opera is to get what is known as ‘bums on seats’, i.e. get people to the shows. However, there are a lot of bigger picture efforts including working to enhance the brand awareness of the company and the awareness of the art form itself by nurturing current audiences and generating and attracting new ones. I work across every place where our brand is seen and heard, whether it be online in the digital space, radio ads, TV ads or documentaries, opera campaigns, show programmes, venues, billboards, events, PR initiatives and more.
Marketing is a fast changing/paced industry, how do you keep up with trends?
I do a lot of reading in order to keep up with advances and trends. I am also very big on continued education – although I did a marketing degree, I did a lot of other study to help arm myself up with other practical skills including graphic design, web design and writing and photography. During Covid I undertook a Postgraduate Diploma in Communications and Public Relations. Now that I am living in Auckland and conveniently work in the same complex as the Marketing Association, I plan to attend their workshops which look great.
Do you take any learnings from music to help with marketing or vice versa?
Absolutely. When I was a student and told people I was studying music and commerce I would get a lot of comments saying that it was an unusual pairing. That always baffled me as music is one of the biggest industries in the world. There are certainly a lot of parallels and crossover areas. As a freelance performer you always had to treat it as your own business – you were the product. Also, you must determine your target audience and figure out what they want and enjoy. In my role at NZ Opera there are areas where my musical background has certainly been useful – from knowing how to write Italian operatic song titles, to helping record and give music direction to singers in the music studio for an animated brand ad.
What do you enjoy most about working in marketing?
I most enjoy the opportunity to be creative in different ways. I am a visual person and love communicating. I enjoy problem solving and thinking of out of the box ways to share a message.
How do you balance your jobs as a marketer and a singer?
My role with NZ Opera is a great combination of the marketing and music worlds and I do feel that one compliments the other. I am also very lucky that the company has a great understanding of who I am as a person and how important performing is to me, and has given me a lot of flexibility. Earlier in the year they gave me leave to play a role on Shortland Street. That involved a lot of 5am starts and checking work emails in the make-up chair, but was a wonderful experience.
Is there a clear favourite – opera or marketing?
Ooh hard question! I definitely enjoy having variety in my life. The other day I had a full day’s photoshoot for opera, then got changed into a sequin suit and headed out to sing in a show. I like wearing different hats and feel very lucky to be able to do that.
Where/when can people catch you performing?
My worlds of marketing and music will very literally collide at the Marketing Awards in September where I will sing for the gala event at Spark Arena. Over the next few months I will be performing at a lot of sporting events and am looking forward to performaning at a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between People’s Republic of the China and New Zealand, an evening of all things French and Kiwi at the Devonport Yacht Club and The Great Kiwi Songbook – a performance with my friend Laughton Kora and the Blue Smoke Quartet. I wouldn’t be a true marketer if I didn’t give a call to action.
Details about what’s coming up can be found at www.sophie-morris.com, on Instagram or Facebook @sophiemorrisnz.