How This 100-Year-Old Business Publication Turned Its Attention Toward Millennials

They make up nearly half of Forbes' audience

Forbes is reaching the next generation of innovators. Getty Images
Headshot of Sami Main

When you think of Forbes Magazine, you might picture a cigar-chomping executive reading the latest issue while getting his wingtips shined.

That’s not entirely the case, it turns out.

Forbes, first published in 1917, recently announced the newest batch of inductees into its annual “30 Under 30” list via Snapchat. It’s the first business magazine to be a part of Snapchat’s Discover platform. The list, which first launched in 2011, features various influencers and young entrepreneurs who are busy breaking molds left and right.

“We’re an overnight success that’s been six years in the making,” said Mark Howard, Forbes’s CRO, who also noted it’s more difficult to get onto the “30 Under 30” than it is to get into Harvard or Stanford.

“For 99 years, we’ve been the champions of capitalism and the entrepreneurial spirit,” said Howard. “We didn’t have to change our ethos to draw in a younger crowd the way a lot of other media companies, who weren’t web-based, had to.”

While Forbes magazine publishes 14 times a year, the Forbes website sees about 56 million visitors a month. Nearly half are considered part of a millennial demographic.

More than 50 percent, and sometimes up to 70 percent, of digital readers come from mobile devices, comparable to other digital publishers. With that in mind, Forbes set out to design a completely consumable experience that would match other swipeable platforms for bigger projects on their site.

With people swiping and rotating in other apps, the team at Forbes wanted bigger packages to feel familiar to their millennial audience and create an easier experience for them to navigate.

“This is a generation who grew up with [Mark] Zuckerberg,” said Lewis DVorkin, and industry veteran who was Forbes’ executive editor in the Internet 1.0 days, and returned as chief product officer in 2010. “Young people want to do good or make their own non-traditional company.”

“Not many new media start-ups have succeeded in attracting a young, business crowd,” he said.

“Our audience is always going to be career-oriented and wants to get ahead,” he said. “Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, but everyone wants to be successful. We can help with that.”

“Forbes isn’t just trying to use audience-based targeting to find new readers,” said Howard. “We’re creating communities of like-minded individuals who are in the same mindset as each other.”

To further connect those forward-thinking minds, Forbes also created an app that’s exclusive to people who have made it into the 30 Under 30 franchise. Each year, the new inductees are also invited to the app.

It’s social networking for business-minded young entrepreneurs. They can use it to see if anyone else is in a certain city for a potential meet-up, during Forbes-hosted “30 Under 30” parties, which have grown to multiple international editions in Europe and Asia, and many other typical functions of chat-based networking apps.

“We want any of our apps and properties to be utility rather than content,” said DVorkin. “If you build a community, then you can just let them do what they do.”

By focusing on how their new, main audience consumes content—”screens full of information at a time,” said DVorkin—and what they want to do with their lives, Forbes has a secure and regular base of young visitors who are ready to either be successful in their current field or who want to take the world by storm in a different way.

Co-founded by financial journalist B.C. Forbes in 1917, the Forbes family is now a minority stakeholder after selling the majority to a group of Hong Kong investors, Integrated Whale Media Investments, in 2014. Currently, CEO and executive chairman Mike Perlis and president and COO Mike Federle are responsible for the day-to-day business management.

Forbes is banking on these advances in technology combined with the constant influx of new voices and industries to stay in touch with millennials and Gen Z behind them.

“People featured on our lists are already successful because of their networking ability,” said Howard. “We’re here to help them ripple that out.”

@samimain Sami Main is social editor for Adweek, where she posts Adweek content onto social platforms and looks for creative ways to communicate what's new.