From Millennials to Gen Z (and Gen Alpha): How Her Campus Media capture the hottest markets one college woman at a time

Her Campus Media is a college media empire for women, by women. It is a platform for students who want careers in media, gives young women a sense of community, and claims to reach Gen Z better than anyone else across its brands and communities. Stephanie Kaplan Lewis, CEO and co-founder of the award-winning company, spoke to Adri Kotze about winning over hearts and minds, making a profit in a bleak media landscape, and seeing around corners.

  • Connecting authentically with an audience can transcend the tides and trends of a tumultuous industry.
  • A bottom-up, community-fuelled approach helps you evolve with your audience.
  • Brands in every vertical, in every category, must focus on Gen Z.


In the fifteen years since three Harvard undergrads with no experience and no money started Her Campus Media, they have never raised money and never had any debt. Every year, they have grown. They have never missed a payroll – and they have been profitable.

Her Campus Media recently made its sixth acquisition. It calls itself the #1 portfolio of Gen Z media brands and marketing solutions.

And the co-founders, all women, own 100% of the company.

It is a remarkable feat, not least against the backdrop of the carnage in traditional media.

Stephanie Kaplan Lewis, one of the co-founders of Her Campus Media and CEO, ascribes their success to operational scale and efficiency.

“We have always believed that a business should make more money than it spends. We’ve run a profitable business from day one, and as we grow and scale the top line, we are looking for ways to run an increasingly efficient business. We are always looking for ways to optimise everything we do,” Stephanie explains.

Stephanie is one of our speakers at Mx3 Barcelona on 12-13 March. Meet her and others there. Our Early Bird offer on tickets ends on 14 February. View the agenda, speakers and partners, and purchase your tickets here:

She makes it sound easy and obvious, but the story of Her Campus Media is extraordinary. Since their start in 2009, they have won over millennials, captured Gen Z, and are ready for Gen Alpha. Yet, for a company so in tune with trends, they have spurned social media fads.

“Any media company or anything in this space that has been around for 15 years has to be adaptable.

“We focus on being really nimble, being really flexible. This audience has turned over many times within the 15 years. What platforms they’re on – or what platforms even exist – has turned over many times and continues to turn over.”

They focused on creating the company, Stephanie says, and a business that’s “really about winning over the hearts and minds of the next generation” rather than to be optimised for a certain set of conditions or a world in which “SEO is king, or Snapchat is king, or whatever the current trend, TikTok, may be”.

“As platforms change, as behaviours change, it’s no sweat for us. We’re not concerned if there’s talk that it will be banned or about what will happen with it because we build genuine community. We connect authentically with this audience, and that’s something that can transcend the tides and trends of a tumultuous industry.”

Community-powered and community-driven

Stephanie, Annie Wang and Windsor Western met as undergrads while running a student lifestyle publication for women on campus. At the time, it was the annual print magazine for Harvard women.

They moved it online, and it took off with college women across the country.

“We started hearing from college women nationwide, some of whom were saying they wished they had something like that on their campus that they could read.

“Then, a whole other group of college women reached out, saying they wished they had something like that on their campus that they could write for. They wanted to work for Glamour or Vogue or Cosmo one day, but all they had on campus was their school newspaper,” Stephanie recalls.

They spotted the gap in the market – neither teen magazines nor women’s magazines spoke to college women, and aspiring student journalists were looking for a platform.

Stephanie, Annie and Windsor won the business plan competition at Harvard and launched the company in the fall of 2009, at the start of their senior year.

“When we started the company, we really talked about how this was created by college women for college women. And, of course, that was true at the time very specifically in that the three of us were college women ourselves. But also, that’s what is really built into the model,” Stephanie says.

“All our content is written by student journalists.”

Her Campus Media has campus chapters at colleges across the country where student journalists create local content.

“They’re the ones informing us about what women on their campus care about and want to know about. That community-powered and community-driven approach is something that is at the core of both Her Campus and everything that we’ve built upon it since then.

“So, we are making sure that our model is really informed by our audience, driven by this community, because that’s what has naturally allowed the company and our products and services, our content, and our programming to evolve along with this audience. It’s really this kind of bottom-up, community-fuelled approach.”

An ecosystem of Gen Z media brands

Her Campus Media has grown from a content site and campus chapter network to a full portfolio of Gen Z media brands, communities, and marketing solutions for brands.

They did this by, firstly, launching other properties, Stephanie explains.

The Her Canvas Blogger Network, started about 10 years ago, has evolved into the Influencer Collective. A platform born in the pandemic, Generation Hired, is a career development and recruiting platform for the next generation, connecting them with employers.

Of their six acquisitions, College Fashionista and Spoon University became core properties.

“Those were other like-minded, community-driven media brands and communities serving the same audience of college students – but in a different vertical.”

The portfolio is a “whole ecosystem of media brands”, the communities that power them, and separate communities of influencers, creators and ambassadors.

Stephanie says they use all these elements for their suite of integrated marketing services, making their money by working with leading brands such as L’Oreal, Unilever, and Walmart,  connecting them with Gen Z as a “one-stop shop”.

Changing trends

Back in 2009, Stephanie, Annie and Windsor’s audience was millennials.

“The landscape has changed in so many ways since then. Our content has evolved a ton, whether it’s what we’re covering, the words that we use to cover it, or the section names of the verticals on our site,” says Stephanie, herself a millennial.

“What feminism means to college women has changed. It looks different than it did then. Of course, the trends have changed.”

Millennials and Gen Z are very different from one another, but the shift from one generation to the next was gradual. Her Campus Media moved with the change because their media brands and communities are made up of students and, therefore, part of it, she emphasises.

Her Campus Media brands and communities have tens of millions of readers and followers. They have a presence on over 2 000 campuses and over 50 000 community members in all 50 US states. It’s a combination of a hyper-local focus on the individual campuses and a national revenue base.

“What we do from a marketing campaign perspective are big national campaigns that reach Gen Z and college women everywhere. But we’re then able to do ambassador programmes on college campuses.

“We do events in cities, whether it’s on campus or near campus. We’re able to activate priority markets for brands, depending on what their different priorities are in different markets around the country.”

Increasingly, Her Campus Media is building an international presence as campus chapters and community members grow in different countries.

Gen Z is massively important for brands, Stephanie says. When women, especially, are 18 to 24, in college, making their own purchasing decisions for the first time, and choosing what brands to buy, they form brand loyalties and make purchasing decisions that last a lifetime.

Women end up being the key household spending decision-makers across all categories, including categories for men.

“So, the Gen Z spending power is massive. It’s only going to continue to climb,” she predicts.

“Brands in every vertical, in every category, need to be focused on Gen Z. They need to be speaking to them and marketing to them because now is your chance to capture them.”

Gen Alpha

Her Campus Media is “good at seeing around corners”, Stephanie says, and “of course” they already have their eyes on Gen Alpha.

It’s the first generation born fully in the 21st century, with the oldest about 13. (The youngest will be born in the next year.)

Her Campus Media has already bought up domain names related to Gen Alpha, Stephanie says, and they are planning how to focus more on their high school-adjacent audience.

“Our content has always been very aspirational for high school students. We already have that audience there by the time they get to college. But now that we’re in the midst of another generational shift… we’re really poised to be able to be the ones to speak to that, be out in front of that and be all over that.”

Creating success

The business has won a slew of awards, and been named to Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, EY Entrepreneur of the Year, and Forbes 30 Under 30.

But, says Stephanie, the best thing about her job is seeing where their alumni have gone on to now.

“At the core, our mission is about serving this next generation, especially in media and marketing, helping them to launch their careers.”

I suddenly wish Her Campus Media was around when Gen X were students.


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