As we return to a life that allows us to venture outside and more or less enjoy the reopening of our cities, we spoke with CEO of Time Out Group about how the media and leisure brand, which is based on the buzz of the city, navigated such a rapid lockdown of worldwide cultural life, how they realigned their mission and how it has benefited Time Out in the long-run.
What made you want to work in the publishing industry?
I have always been attracted and interested in the written word. My career to date spans different sectors including travel, technology, media and e-commerce. I am a curious person by nature and I am interested in everything. I love learning and one great way to do that is travelling and living in different countries and meeting different people. That international aspect to life is weaved throughout Time Out and operates in 328 cities and across 58 countries, catering to a diverse range of locals and visitors who want to explore the best of our cities around the world. There is so much of this planet to explore and we want to give everyone a taste of it through our digital content, our magazines and our Markets.
Chart your career from the start to where you are now.
I joined Time Out Group in 2015 as Executive Chairman and was appointed CEO in 2016, when I successfully took the company public on London’s AIM market. I have had an international career across different sectors including travel, technology, media and e-commerce. My past roles were TripAdvisor’s Global Vice President of Sales in New York, Travelport’s Vice President for Canada, Latin America & the Caribbean and Cendant Corporation’s Managing Director of Continental Europe & South America. Prior to this, I held senior international positions at Regus plc, Energizer and Diageo. I am also an investor and board adviser to several start-up companies globally.
How quickly were you able to pivot Time Out to Time In after the world went into lockdown?
We immediately responded to the change which faced us - almost overnight. We actually suspended our print editions around the world in mid-March, a week before the UK went into lockdown and then closed our Time Out Markets for the safety of the public and staff. At the same time we temporarily re-branded to Time In across our website, social platforms and our e-version of the magazine. By doing this, we stayed relevant to both readers and advertisers throughout the crisis. Our business very quickly adapted, changed and displayed our agility. We clearly had to create new content for things to do from home. This was an enormous effort by all our content teams worldwide and testament to their adaptability and passion for the brand.
How did you ensure that your new mission and targets were clearly understood by your audience and advertisers?
Commercially we faced a huge task - we needed to answer “why should I care for a company called Time Out when everything is closed?” This was a huge hurdle we needed to overcome and it was essential that our products and new content were out in the market and clearly understood by advertisers. We supplied agencies with weekly, insight-driven bulletins detailing digital and viewing trends and opportunities for integration with brand new, brand-safe editorial campaigns associated with Time In. These were communicated at scale and with a clear sense of exactly how our mission aligned with the world-class content we were producing.
This resulted in new commercial opportunities such as Time Out’s largest ever digital campaign and a partnership with Instagram supporting our #LoveLocal campaign with Experience:LDN and Experience:NYC virtual festivals and more. Not only that but our e-commerce offerings changed drastically - consumers went from buying outdoor activities to things they could do at home or while ‘staycationing’. In general, our audience reacted very well to our pivot as shown by our traffic growth and social engagement and we remained relevant, which was crucial for us as a brand and a business.
Have your publishing and content strategy priorities shifted since COVID?
It is an ever changing journey which we are still navigating. Launching Time In required a transformation in our publishing and content strategy. It was vital that we pivoted to a social-first publishing model, which became essential for driving user engagement and traffic growth. With content we focused on breaking down new lockdown rules, covering positive news stories, and listing all the best things to do from home. We built major editorial campaigns called ‘#LoveLocal’ and ‘Time In Awards’ to support local businesses and champion local heroes.
Now that cities around the world are reopening, Time Out has switched back from Time In to bring a bit of normality back and to showcase the exciting future of our cities. Our new focus will continue to be supporting independent talent and business that make our cities culture, as well as document the rebirth of our cities. Print will still be a big part of our offering when and where there is demand from audiences and advertisers. But for now, we see that our audience is discovering the best of their city online.
What key learnings has Time Out taken from Time In?
For me, the response and agility from the team was second to none and just highlighted the adaptability and creativity of our business model. Once we had the idea to temporarily re-brand to Time In, it was an all-systems-go moment and proved how, during times of challenge, change and difficulty, we are a business who reacts rapidly and makes the most out of any given situation. Now we have come out the other side for the time being, with the return of Time Out and the reopening of 5 of our Time Out Markets with a further pipeline of Dubai, London, Porto and Prague to look forward to in the coming years.
As we come out the other end of lockdown, what was the most memorable part of the last six months?
All the above really. The BLM movement, where our editorial teams wrote articles and guides directing readers to where they can support, and join peaceful protests, how to support black-owned businesses, how to help fundraise for anti-racism organisations and how to leverage educational resources to dispel ignorance, etc. These are just a few of the ways that our content continued to explicitly highlight and empower the black community and black LGBTQ+ community. I loved that we were the head sponsor of Global Pride this year, the epic 24-hour live stream featured films, talks, performances and speeches from an array of musicians, performers, political leaders and human rights activists.
On a more solemn note, we were devastated to lose our beloved founder, Tony Elliott, who passed away from lung cancer this July. Tony loved Time Out: it was his life project, and his passion for the brand appeared in every conversation we ever had, whether in a board meeting or having lunch in one of his favourite places. Our first Time Out London summer print edition in August was dedicated to him with tributes from family, friends and colleagues featured. We owe him very much and we will fight to keep his legacy alive.
What’s on your radar?
As mentioned, BLM protests woke a lot of people up and made us all look under the microscope of how we, as people, businesses and industries act. Social justice, diversity and inclusion are part of my personal ethos and we as a company are striving to be better every day. We need to listen and to adapt and evolve. Representation matters so there is always more to do and more to learn.I don’t want the conversation to fade and that is something the team and I are working hard on at the moment. We have reviewed our hiring practices and are now practising blind recruitment such as 50% minimum diverse candidate pools, and we work with institutions within the media and hospitality sectors that work locally as champions of DEI.
What magazine would you stockpile?
Time Out of course!