2016 Target Marketer of the Year: Windsor Hanger Western
Windsor Hanger Western spearheaded social change for young women at the start of the Great Recession, bringing to life a media and marketing empire called Her Campus. As a result of her effort to empower women, Western got invited to visit the White House — the former stomping grounds of one of her greatest role models, a civil rights activist who rose to prominence during the Great Depression.
Western says First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s wisdom helps guide her every day. That’s why Western, who was eight months pregnant with her now 14-month-old daughter when she shared the stage with Michelle Obama during the first lady’s “Let Girls Learn” event, named her daughter Eleanor.
The co-founder, president and publisher of Her Campus Media is conscious that she’s now a role model, with more than just Eleanor’s eyes on her.
Since 2009, when she co-founded Her Campus Media with two of her Harvard University classmates, Western’s helped guide the business from being “an online magazine serving a single college, Harvard College, to the largest community of college women — with chapters at over 300 colleges worldwide, 7,000-plus college women writers and managers, and over 6 million unique monthly visitors to [the] flagship site,” says Bill Kaplan, who nominated Western for 2016 Target Marketer of the Year.
Kaplan, CEO and co-founder of Newton, Mass.-based email marketing software and services vendor FreshAddress, is a member of the Her Campus advisory board. He calls the brand, “the go-to place for college [women] and now Millennials to stay connected with each other through the sharing of original content (over 1 million articles written and published to-date), as well as millions of posts, photos, video clips and the like on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email and other social media networks. Her Campus has leveraged this foundation to become the largest online platform and media organization targeting the coveted college marketplace, which represents hundreds of billions in sales.”
To pick Western for the award, Target Marketing’s editors reviewed dozens of nominations before choosing the marketer who “embodies the best marketing has to offer — professional accomplishment, integrity, innovation and service to the marketing community.” While this usually involves marketers with decades-long careers, Western seems as though she’s already lived a lifetime.
Target Marketing’s youngest honoree, Western is a publishing, media, event and e-commerce leader. The married mother says she wants to show young women that they can “have it all,” as long as their employers embrace a work-family balance — with family as the priority.
“I like to joke that I mentor every one of the 7,000-plus women in the Her Campus network,” Western says of staffers. “I call it mentoring, at-scale. My best advice for up-and-coming marketers is to look for opportunities to get experience as early as possible. It’s not enough any more to major in marketing or communications and get good grades. In addition to good grades and relevant coursework, employers expect relevant work experience before you graduate from college. Take every opportunity that is presented to you and make sure that whatever experience you have, that you are learning from it and growing as a result of it!”
Her Campus, the Early Years
Western lives by four main quotes from Roosevelt, and they seem to coincide with phases in her media and marketing career.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” falls in line with the events of 2007.
Then a pre-med major who’d dreamed of being a pediatric surgeon since childhood, she discovered a new passion during her sophomore year at Harvard College. The college, which is the undergraduate section of Harvard University, had a women’s lifestyle and fashion magazine.
When Western and her classmates, Stephanie Kaplan Lewis and Annie Wang, took over leadership of Freeze College Magazine, Western saw the need for the publication to move online — an adventurous proposition at the time. Once there, Freeze quickly became the most popular publication on campus, and word of it even spread beyond Harvard.
That’s when Western saw the opportunity.
“When it came to journalism and marketing opportunities,” she says, “most schools only had a school newspaper and a radio station. Very few had a women’s lifestyle and fashion magazine, despite a strong need and strong desire for one from the student body.
“When we took a step back and looked at the larger media landscape, we also saw a huge void for national media that specifically targeted college women. There were several teen-focused brands (Seventeen, TeenVogue, CosmoGirl) in business at the time and a plethora of women’s-focused brands (Vogue, Glamour, InStyle, Lucky, Allure) whose median reader was in her early 30s. What the media landscape lacked was something for the 18- to 24-year-old woman, the college student living on her own for the first time, establishing herself as a young adult and navigating the world of college and early career.
“We were members of the segment at the time and felt the need acutely.”
So, in addition to switching her college major to the history of science and writing her thesis “on the influence of medical imagery in advertisements in the 19th and 20th century,” Western switched her career goal to media and marketing.
To that end, Western, Lewis and Wang entered the Her Campus concept into Harvard College’s business plan competition, and won in March 2009. They launched the business in September 2009, a year before Western and Lewis graduated.
Wang took a leave of absence from the university to work as the co-founder, CPO and creative director, along with Western and Lewis, who now serves as the co-founder, CEO and editor-in-chief of Boston-based Her Campus Media.
Since then, Her Campus has expanded beyond being an online magazine site for Harvard undergraduates.
“Additionally,” Western continues, “we saw a huge lack of opportunities for women in college to prove themselves to future employers by gaining real-life work experience during their college careers. Internship opportunities at major magazines were few and far between, and usually unpaid and in New York City. Those who were lucky enough to secure one of these internships often found themselves fetching coffee and making copies — rarely doing the kind of truly meaningful work they were capable of. There was a prevailing sentiment (that still exists today, although we are working actively to eliminate it) that until you receive your college degree, you are not capable of doing anything of substance in the world of journalism, advertising and marketing. We turned this idea on its head by launching a media empire fueled entirely by the talents of these undergraduate women, providing a platform for self-expression and professional development that has turned into the top-read site for college women in the world.”
Her Campus Gets Bigger
In nominating Western, Kaplan touts her marketing prowess.
“[Her Campus Media’s] client list reads like a Who’s Who across multiple verticals, and includes Amtrak, H&M, Intel, L’oreal, Merck, Microsoft, MTV, P&G, Reebok and Target,” he says.
Kaplan points to the speakers at Her Conference 2016, a two-day event in New York, as proof of the prominence of the Her Campus Media brand. They include the editors-in-chief of Essence and Self magazines, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., an Olympian, a reality TV star, and a fashion designer.
The brand offers college women an email newsletter, the InfluenceHer Collective, the High School Ambassador Program, Her Conference, Her Conference: High School, College Fashion Week, Her Campus Shop, The Her Campus Guide to College Life and other products, programming, tools and events “to fulfill its mission of serving college women across every platform.”
Kaplan concludes: “These women are willing and able to reach for the sky, and they understand that the only way to get there is to pursue one’s goals until you succeed.”
A Big Year-and-a-Half on Her Campus
All of this work lead up to a dizzying year of events: Western speaks at the 2015 Girl Up Leadership Summit with the First Lady. She partners with Michelle Obama on female education and empowerment programs. She moves to Atlanta and telecommutes. Eleanor is born.
Meanwhile, Western continues to be the person who will answer the phone at the Boston office if she’s closest, then don a shower cap and suds up for a neck-up video shoot for The Body Shop.
“Windsor will do whatever it takes to get the job done,” Lewis says. “And sometimes, hilarity ensues.”
Western cites this quote from Roosevelt: “It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.”
Perhaps as a result of this line of thinking, Western — who turns 28 on Oct. 11 — has already been named to BusinessWeek’s “25 Under 25 Best Young Entrepreneurs,” Inc. magazine’s “30 Under 30 Coolest Young Entrepreneurs,” Glamour magazine’s “20 Amazing Young Women” and The Boston Globe’s “25 Most Stylish Bostonians.”
That last honor may not logically follow from hard media and marketing work, but Her Campus Media did originate from a fashion and lifestyle magazine.
Emily Moore Shechtman — the senior director of business development at Her Campus Media — recalls this about the Girl Up Leadership Summit, hosted by the U.N. Foundation.
“Windsor and I were invited to the White House last fall to meet with Michelle Obama’s communications and policy teams,” Shechtman says.
She adds that a Her Campus contributor who was interning in D.C. made the initial connection between the brand and the First Lady. And that connection brings the brand’s mission full-circle — women helping women.
Western and Shechtman flew to D.C. the next day.
“We were given a private tour of the entire White House, taking selfies and pictures, rocking our best #girlpower poses along the way,” Shechtman says. “In true Her Campus form, we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to capture content. After the meeting, Windsor shared the stage with Michelle Obama at her ‘Let Girls Learn’ event. Windsor spearheaded the launch of three different programs to support the First Lady’s ‘Let Girls Learn’ female education and empowerment initiative, which was one of the most rewarding and well-received partnerships in Her Campus history.”
Adding Feminism to Marketing, Her Campus-Style
Western aligns the brand with partners she believes embody Her Campus Media’s feminist values. “It’s the right thing to do,” she says.
So brands like Tinder, the partner for the Her Campus Tour, need to do right by women.
“Our marketing partners all embrace our mission of serving and supporting women, and that is why we partner with them,” Western says. “We have been lucky enough to work with a fantastic group of marketers through the years for brands in a huge number of categories who are aligned with our mission and our values. These include incredible brands ranging from Plan B to European Wax Center, to Rebecca Minkoff to TRESemmé, to Intel to Microsoft, to Maidenform.”
These values even pre-date the HerCampus.com launch. In 2009, the brand partnered on a marketing campaign:
“The campaign was called ‘The Juicy Sisterhood’ and was a sorority-inspired Juicy Couture brand ambassador program, centered around the creation of custom content created by our Juicy Sisters,’” Western says. “The content featured the ways that these ambassadors organically integrated Juicy Couture clothing and accessories into their lifestyles. Today, custom influencer content is being done by everyone. But at that point in time, this was a very novel idea.”
That’s why three years ago, Western’s commitment to those values was evident to Sean-Patrick M. Hillman when they met during a meeting between his client and an ad agency. Since then, Hillman, an EVP and principal at Corbin-Hillman Communications of New York, has remained a friend and mentor to Western.
“Marketing excellence is the only description I can think of when it comes to Windsor’s work,” Hillman says. “Her ability to navigate the incredibly complicated mind of a female Millennial college/university student on behalf of a client is unmatched. But there is no ego here, unlike many others who behave quite differently than Windsor and her team. The best sign of any true intelligent marketer is one that asks when they don’t know something. Not someone who shrugs it off because they don’t want to look unintelligent.”
Giving Back to Women — Marketers and Otherwise
“Giving back is central to everything that we do at Her Campus,” Western says. “At our core, our mission is to support the next generation of journalists, advertisers and marketers. The women who go through the Her Campus program come out ready to conquer the working world with confidence. It’s so important for us as marketing professionals to mentor younger marketers, to provide internship and externship experiences, and to make sure that there are professional development opportunities for their companies’ most junior team members. Not only is it the right thing to do, these younger marketers will become your biggest advocates down the line. These investments in young talent will pay major dividends, I promise you.”
Kaplan explains other ways Western gives back to the marketing profession.
“Windsor has spoken at Cannes Lions, the Girl Up Leadership Summit, ... Cosmopolitan’s Fun Fearless Life Conference and many more,” he says. “She donates time to many Boston and Atlanta community events and speaks at colleges across the country, sharing her story to aspiring women writers and entrepreneurs.”
Her Campus, Her Future
Western wants to grow Her Campus. She has an outline, as Roosevelt advises: “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”
During the next decade, Western wants to expand the Her Campus Media audience to 13- to 35-year-old females.
“My prediction is that by that time,” she says, “we will have made several additional acquisitions and will be a digital-native media empire focused entirely on serving the world’s young, highly motivated women. I anticipate that 10 years from now, we will have expanded down into teen media (and perhaps girls media) and up into media for young professionals in the first 10 to 15 years of their careers. We will be the player in the young female media space and will be a valuable resource to the world’s smartest marketers looking to impactfully reach women ages 13-35.”
This may be easier for an expanded Her Campus Media empire than other organizations, because Western and her colleagues enjoy trying new things.
“The marketing services and opportunities that we bring to our clients are not only up-to-date, they’re up-to-the-minute,” Western says. “Our content experiences, and therefore our marketing programs, live on the platforms that our audience is currently obsessing over, whether that be Facebook Live, Snapchat or Instagram stories. We’re not afraid to change what we do as consumer behavior evolves and, as a result, what we’ve built is a totally integrated, 360-degree marketing offering that our clients tap into with abandon.”
Hillman thinks this type of thinking may lead Western down a different path.
“To become POTUS by the time she is 40,” he says. “No, I am not kidding.”
It’s an interesting prediction. Will Western be president? Or will Eleanor occupy the White House?
Either way, Her Campus Media will probably cover it.