The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to several industries, and publishing has been no exception. Among those hardest hit have been titles serving local markets.
With public spaces temporarily shutting down, regional titles have little leverage to sell advertising, and readers have little interest in learning about activities they can no longer partake in. This has led to print suspensions (temporary and permanent) , furloughs, layoffs and left some on the brink of bankruptcy or closure.
The Time Out Group, which serves 328 cities in 58 countries around the world, was not immune to the impacts of the pandemic. The company took swift action when stay-at-home orders were put in place and temporally halted its print in its cities that still offered it. Further, given immediate and forecasted decreases in revenue, CEO Julio Bruno says the company also made some salary reductions, and furloughed an undisclosed number of employees. The company was also forced to lay off hourly employees at its six Time Out Markets food courts, since they were unable to remain open.
However, despite these difficult times, Time Out has been proactive in pivoting its business, and establishing more secure footing to stabilize and eventually grow once the crisis is behind us.
Its first initiative was to rethink its content strategy.
“Time Out is a brand that people come to explore and experience the best of the city when they go out,” Bruno says. “All of a sudden, our audience was homebound. They were in a state of uncertainty and 24-hour COVID-19 news watch and needed some levity and happiness to get through these tough times.”
In essence, the brand’s ethos didn’t change per se, rather its mission did.
Bruno explains, “[We] pivoted to help people discover all the things they can do while spending time in. The opposite of what we were sharing before! It required us to flex our muscles to be creative, innovative and set a different mindset to meet this new challenge. Our journalists who once focused on curating the best restaurants, theaters, movies and live events that were happening IRL now switched to help our audience discover the best live streaming entertainment, streaming theater shows, the best Netflix movies to watch, at home workouts [and] where to learn new skills.”
Of course, a new editorial strategy about staying home isn’t a sustainable business strategy going forward, which is why Time Out also needed to secure cash to maintain its operation until advertising revenue returns and its Markets can reopen. Rather than borrow, the company instead offered 128,571,428 shares of its company at 35 pence (43 cents USD) per placing, with the intent to raise £45 million (approximately $55 million USD). Bruno says the liquidity earned from this selloff will not only provide more cash flow in general, but will also allow it to repay loans, fund the company’s capex and strengthen its overall balance sheet.
He also expresses clear confidence in the business moving forward.
“We are an iconic brand of 52 years that has evolved and adapted to our audience over time. We strongly believe we will continue to be a relevant part of the cities and people’s lives,” he says. “We will emerge with a stronger brand, larger audience and higher operating, which will allow us to continue Time Out Market’s successful roll-out, which transformed Time Out Group in 2019.”
In regards to the Time Out Markets, Bruno says those businesses lend themselves to a more safe experience for consumers when they are able to reopen.
“We have large open spaces with high ceilings and advanced technology air circulation and filtering systems,” he says. “Given this, complying with social distancing will not be an issue. We have touchless options for ordering and paying through our own app. To accommodate those who choose to stay in, we will also offer delivery. Nearly all our Markets have outdoor seating. All kitchens are open, allowing customers to view their meal as it is prepared and delivered. Furthermore, we will ensure that very strict sanitation policies and systems are in place.”
What’s more, Bruno says he does not foresee any holdups for the newest Markets locations that are scheduled to open over the next three years in Dubai (2020), London (2021), Porto (2021) and Prague (2023).