Stephanie Kaplan, Windsor Hanger Western and Annie Wang met as Harvard undergrads working on a campus lifestyle and fashion magazine together. Seizing an opportunity to publish more frequently and save money on printing costs, the trio decided to turn the magazine into an online publication and soon started hearing from college and high school girls across the country who loved the site. Some asked for advice on how to start something similar at their own schools, as many of them had school newspapers but no magazine.
Stephanie, Windsor and Annie realized there was a hole in the market for media directly targeted at college women and decided to take what they were doing at Harvard on a national scale. To that end, they entered, and won, the i3 Innovation Challenge, a startup competition for Harvard students. The site, Her Campus (HC), provides universal fashion and lifestyle content for all its readers, but also features campus chapters headed up by women from individual colleges, with local content written by and for students there.
Since its launch in fall 2009, the site has grown to 250 campus chapters and 3,000+ contributors, and their office in Boston has 12 full-time employees. Her Campus was also named to a Forbes list of this year’s 100 best websites for women. Just this past October, they had their highest traffic month ever: 1.7 million monthly unique visitors and over 5.5 million monthly pageviews.
We talked to Stephanie, the 24-year-old CEO and editor-in-chief of Her Campus, about her adventures in media.
Can you describe for us your various partnerships and the other ways HC makes money? How were you able to win over advertisers, especially in the earlier, more uncertain days?
Her Campus is a college marketing firm, connecting brands with college women across digital, email, social, event-based and on-campus platforms. We leverage our digital audience of more than 1.5 million monthly users coupled with our feet-on-the-ground presence at close to 250 colleges and universities to deliver innovative marketing programs for marketers looking to reach this demographic. This means everything from sponsored content, to sampling programs, to large-scale events we’ve created like our annual College Fashion Week and National Intercollegiette Conference.
There has always been enormous advertiser interest from the beginning, since the female college demographic is so coveted yet so elusive, and we offer a new and effective way to access them. Nevertheless, in the beginning it was certainly more difficult to get big brands on board before we had made a name for ourselves, so we focused on devising super creative and unique programs for clients to show the kind of value we were able to bring to them.
For example, we did a lot of legwork to design brand ambassador programs that enabled brands to not have to run their own program. We managed it for them and recruited girls on the ground to be their reps, then extended those girls’ reach by giving them HC platforms — websites, social media — to help them further promote whatever the brand and its products were.
How do you incentivize bloggers, ambassadors, campus chapter heads and any woman who gets involved with Her Campus?
Our team members represent the world's top student journalists and marketers. Students write for Her Campus for free, using it as a career launching platform to gain skills and writing clips they can use to apply for media jobs and internships. We serve as a feeder into top media positions, and our team members have gone on to work for Vogue, Glamour, Seventeen, MTV, The Washington Post, Digitas, Ogilvy and many more.
How do you come up with your content offerings?
Our national writers pitch content ideas, and our senior editor and I go through those pitches to determine what gets written. When we see a bunch of girls pitching a piece on the same topic or idea, we know it must be an important one to cover. We are constantly digging into our traffic analytics to inform our content strategy going forward, doing more of what does well and less of what does poorly on the site.
What future plans do you have for HC?
We’re continuing to expand by launching new campus chapters and also expanding internationally a lot this year. We have an acquisition in the works that will help us with that. Right now we have chapters in the United States, Canada, the UK, Scotland, Australia and Puerto Rico, and we’re looking to do a lot more expansion in Europe. We’re also working on an HC book, which is really exciting.
Working with friends can be tricky. How do you and your co-founders manage that?
I think the key is that we became friends through working together rather than starting out as friends who then tried to start a company together. We’ve spent every single day of the last four to five years together, and we complement one another’s skill sets really well. We absolutely love working together, and there’s no way I could have done anything even close to this without both of my co-founders.