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College students develop innovative magazine model

October 1: During the middle of the recession, Harvard students Stephanie Kaplan, Windsor Hanger and Annie Wang decided to come up with their own model for an online magazine, hoping to attract advertisers that didn’t seem to be putting as much money in print any longer.

Armed with little experience and a vision, they launched Her Campus, an online magazine for college women. Even before the magazine launched last September, the girls had bagged an ad package with Juicy Couture, a women’s clothing line. “I had nothing for them but a preliminary logo and my word,” said Hanger, the marketing genius of the group who also serves as publisher and president. Since then, Her Campus has partnered with various publications, including the Huffington Post and Seventeen magazine, which features a college guide in its October issue that was written by Her Campus staff.

The Her Campus business model is innovative. They monetize their site partly by connecting businesses with college students for market research, brand representation or various other reasons businesses may want to get in touch with students. “Basically, we have direct access to college students, which is a demographic that’s easy to reach, but companies don’t necessarily have access to,” said Kaplan, Her Campus CEO and editor in chief.

Upon graduation, Kaplan and Hanger took on Her Campus full-time, while Wang, the Web guru, is still finishing up her degree. “We work nonstop. There is always an endless amount of work but we absolutely love it. We think it’s great we can do our dream job right out of college; there’s definitely a lot of pressure being your own boss, but we’re excited about where it’s going,” Kaplan said. And where it’s going is across the country.

Over the last year, the girls have expanded Her Campus at colleges across the country and currently boast over 60 branches, which consist of a corresponding editor who runs that specific campus site and oversees a team of writers from the school. This provides a personalized experience that supplements the site’s national coverage, Kaplan noted. “With Her Campus, we seek to provide a model for the future of online magazines,” she said. By next year, she said they expect to have expanded to 250 colleges, with an eye on developing more creative marketing partnerships.

Magazine journalism sophomore Elora Tocci runs the Syracuse branch, overseeing a staff of 12. Her specific branch launched this past February, and has since given Tocci a taste of what it’s like being an editor, as well as the skills to be a leader, she said. It is also a model that is relevant. “I think it [Her Campus] appeals to a very specific audience and an audience that is not necessarily targeted that much,” she said. “I think Her Campus really fills a gap.”

The hope is that someday, Her Campus will become a daily routine for every college girl, noted Hanger. Until then, the girls will continue to refine their business model and grow. “I think that Her Campus is revolutionizing today’s media model. Because we’re new to the business, we’re not stuck in any pre-defined constraints – instead we figure out what allows us to have integrity, we of course want to make sure we don’t cross that church and state boundary. But because we’re young and relatively inexperienced, it really allows us to be innovative,” Hanger said. “The rest though, is figuring out the different possibilities and throwing a bunch of things at the wall and seeing what sticks and developing our model as we go.”

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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