How Time Out Group aims to hit 350 million monthly uniques

Time Out Group has tapped former global travel site TripAdvisor business chief Christine Petersen to be its new non-executive board director. During her 10 years at TripAdvisor she helped grow the company from a few dozen people to 2,500 people. The site’s traffic increased from around 8 million monthly unique users to well over 350 million, she said.

Now, she wants to help Time Out do the same.

“Time Out can totally achieve that. Its offering lends itself even better than TripAdvisor’s did to driving a bigger digital audience because it offers up daily information and content, so it is easier to reach that kind of space,” she said. “Three hundred and fifty million is the figure to beat,” she said.

Time Out’s got a long road to hoe, though. With U.K. traffic currently at 4.3 million monthly unique visitors, and U.S. traffic closing in on 7 million, according to comScore. (Though worth noting that TripAdvisor uses Google Analytics figures, which are always far higher. Time Out uses a mix of NRS and Adobe figures to give an amalgamated figure of 111 million global readers, across print and digital platforms).

Regardless, Petersen said digital is the growth engine for any company today, and that setting purposely over-ambitious targets is critical to sustaining motivation.

“At TripAdvisor, if we wanted to reach 20 million monthly unique visitors, we’d aim for 50 million, because we certainly weren’t going to get there by aiming for 10 million. Thinking so big forces you to think differently,” she added.

Digiday caught up with her on her first day in the new role. Here are some takeaways of where she sees the biggest opportunities.

Building a speed-centric culture
TripAdvisor has grown into a multi-billion dollar business, generating millions in revenue from display and click-based advertising, affiliate marketing and subscriptions. But it did so while managing not to lose its original cultural ethos, which centered on speed, according to Petersen: Speed of product development, of content production, of revenue diversification.

“What underpinned our success was an internal culture always operating with that sense of urgency. And you don’t look back, because who knows what’s behind you,” she said. “I want to help bring that to the culture at Time Out.”

Tying physical and digital customer footprints
In 2014, Time Out made its first permanent food venture in Lisbon, Portugal. Time Out Market was the publisher’s first-ever food court, 75,000 square feet smack in the middle of Mercado de Riberia, the Portuguese capital’s biggest fresh fish market. It attracts an average 40,000 people every week, according to Time Out.

The group plans to bring the market to London and New York. Peterson said this venture has only just scratched the surface in terms of its commercial potential and is a conduit for digital and offline customer purchase journeys.

“I love marrying something you can see, touch and feel to digital. You can walk into Time Out market, and the Wi-Fi can be sponsored by Time Out; there could be all sorts of ways to signpost downloading our apps to get 10 percent off food or drinks while passing through,” she said. “There is huge potential.”

Time Out Market in Lisbon has an average weekly footfall of 40,000 people.

Mobile and e-commerce
Petersen refers to Time Out as being “the city in the pocket” of consumers, herself having been a fan of the listings site since it launched in New York. Time Out already has an e-commerce proposition. Site visitors have been able to purchase things like tickets, offers and hotel reservations for years, but Peterson thinks there is a lot of room for growth, though the company wouldn’t break out specific figures.

“Ten years ago everyone was ‘going to go digital’; five years ago it was about expanding digital; now it’s pre-eminent digital,” she said. “But you have to ask what your customer wants and then translate that into each channel.”