In October of 2015, when Julio Bruno took over as the chief executive at Time Out Group, the global events and culture publisher was taking on heavy losses. As a city-based publication that listed events and ran restaurant reviews, Time Out had been undone by Google and online guides. But Bruno, an executive who had held senior positions at Diageo and TripAdvisor, saw an opportunity.
"It was a personal decision," he says in this episode of the Ad Lib podcast. "I courted them. I talked to them about what I thought was a very strong brand with challenges."
Now, three years on, he has begun to turn that brand around and make it digitally relevant. Time Out is now in 315 cities and 59 countries. Its physical magazine is free in New York and London, and yet he boasts of having reversed print's decline: print revenue is up 1 percent, (which is better than heading in the other direction). Digital advertising, he says, grew 56 percent in the first half of this year.
Meanwhile, he has leaned into an ecommerce strategy while also building a chain of physical markets.
"To me in this fog of so much information, I saw, and I still do see, Time Out as a place where you have relevant information — in this case about entertainment, what I call the happiness business," he says. "And that strength I saw we could take farther."
To take it farther, Bruno took the company public, which brought in an infusion of cash. He saw its flagship marketplace in Lisbon, Portugal, which opened in 2014, as an opportunity for growth. A curated jumble of local shops, restaurants and live events, Time Out Market Lisboa saw 4 million visitors last year. Next year alone Time Out plans to open similar physical destinations in Brooklyn, Miami, Boston, Chicago and Montreal.
Time Out's events business, meanwhile, tripled in revenue last year.
This diversification of revenue streams — every publisher's pet business model in 2018 — was baked into Bruno's plan from day one, he says.
"Media has been having a terrible time for a number of years," he says.
"You need to evolve and transform the company to still be there, to have an important voice and be sustainable as a business … If what you say is relevant and you're true to your self and your tone of voice is connecting with your audience, there is a space, but what you have to do is much more inventive and much more sharp and smart and flexible in order to survive."
Listen to the whole podcast for all of that and more.