Floating a brand that’s existed for almost half a century is a brave step, but one that’s necessary to expand a company’s revenue potential. Time Out, the international entertainment and culture business, took that step in June of this year, raising £90 million and giving the company a valuation of £195 million.

The company has been engaged in recent years in transitioning its largely print-based business to one that makes 50 percent of its overall revenue from digital sources. The floatation was in service of expanding its mobile e-commerce platform and building on the success of the food and cultural market in Lisbon, an endeavour which it considers to be hugely scalable. 

That’s in part because the Time Out brand is so recognisable, with magazines and digital content bearing the name in over 40 major cities worldwide. Speaking at Monetising Media 2016 in London, Time Out Digital’s CEO Noel Penzer explained how the transition to a digital company with an ecommerce focus is going, and where the company sees itself in five years’ time.

He began by asking the audience a simple question: “So you think you know who we are?” He acknowledged that often when he asks that question, the responses only mention the print arm of the business, its eponymous magazine. However, far from being only a print publication, he argued that the Time Out brand is all about engaging consumers through experiences, and its transition to digital has flowed from that realisation:

“The business has evolved so much over the last three years. For us it hasn’t just been about monetising media, it’s about monetising what we stand for and what we are as a brand. Yes we moved from being a print product to a digital publisher, but two things haven’t changed for us. Consumers place the trust in our content and our brand. We need to stay true to what we are. But how we’ve leveraged what we do as a brand has been central to the transition.”

Noting that fundamentally Time Out has always had a goal of recommending experiences to its consumers as a “two-way network”, Penzer said that it was only in the past few years that the company really started figuring out the advantages that conferred to a trusted brand. Citing Tripadvisor as another recommendation and listings company that entered the ecommerce game when technology allowed, he said:

“The question we asked is ‘we’re telling people what to do, why aren’t we enabling them to do it? Why is it not just making it simpler for the consumer to do what they want?’

Time Out was [originally] an 4 page pamphlet which was listings of things to do. It’s only just over two years ago that Time Out figured out they could make money from that. Restaurants and bars, we proactively go to them and say ‘do you want to reach our audience?’ We’re creating a channel for particularly the smaller businesses [to reach an audience].”

That in turn has allowed Time Out to diversify its revenue into creating branded events on behalf of partners (he cites a recent Alice Through The Looking Glass tie-in event, which saw the company take over a four-storey Georgian town house so consumers could experience something of that world) and insert itself into the live events space:

“As a business in the last 12 months we’ve really ramped up what we do with live experiences. We’ve got an audience that want to go and experience these things. It plays perfectly into Time Out’s field, that fear of missing out.”

The live events – including the Time Out Market in Lisbon – are themselves an extension of Time Out’s editorial strategy, in that it’s a constantly curated set of experiences that audiences know they can trust to be good. The Time Out Market in Lisbon has, in the two short years since opening, become one of the top tourist destinations in the city.

But Penzer also noted that the transition wasn’t over yet. He remarked that print advertising revenue is still a large part of their revenue mix, and that the company is looking to grow its ecommerce and events propositions still further to become a more stable organisation.

Ultimately, he argued, what matters to a brand is knowing its mission. He said that in the next few years many media companies should stop thinking of themselves in such a narrow bracket, and really concentrate on the brand and its relationship with audiences if they want to expand.