Happy weekend, friends! Today I’ll be sharing a little recap of the Create + Cultivate Dallas conference I attended last month, as well as five of the most important lessons I learned while there. So without further ado, let’s get started! (See my other adventures in Dallas here and here, and what I wore to the conference here.)
8:00 AM :: Check-in + Breakfast
The morning started off bright and early with check-in at 8am.
Once I had picked up all my conference materials and schedule of events, I headed straight for the breakfast spread. While there I met some of my favorite girls of the day–Jordan, Victoria, and Paige–and we ended up sitting at a table together while we munched on fruit, pastries, and the cutest little macaroons.
Breakfast was held underneath an outdoor tent with the prettiest chandeliers and a see-through top. The weather in Dallas was gorgeous for the conference and the open-air tent made it feel like summer had already arrived. There were little drink stations set up in each room of the venue, so there was never an excuse to not have a sweet drink to sip.
Each of the tables was adorned with the cutest little cacti with bright pink stones, and I loved the mantra “Work Hard. Play Hard” that was inscribed on each.
After breakfast was done, the group of nearly 400 women split into two groups–Track 1 or Track 2. The difference between the two tracks involved which of the different sessions you went to throughout the day. Both were equally intriguing to me, so I opted to not pay extra for the VIP badge (and choice of Track). I was randomly placed on Track 2 for the day and stayed outside at the ShopStyle stage for my first panel, which focused on Instagram photos and building an engaged audience.
9:15 AM :: Session #1 Photo Hacks
Over the course of the panel discussion there was a central theme that emerged on gaining a successful Instagram following–engagement. Whether it’s responding to comments on your own posts, or following and commenting on the posts of your biggest supporters, engagement is key to gaining and keeping an active following on Instagram. In addition, the context of your images is another significant factor in building an engaged audience. Make sure that you tell a story with each image you post and pair comments that convey a relevant message to your audience and connect them to your image. And as always, post good quality images that are consistent with your brand. Don’t know what your brand looks like exactly? That’s ok too! Experiment with photography and have fun with it. Never post something you don’t like and your style will come out of the process organically. Be creative in carving out a space for yourself on Instagram and don’t be afraid to fill it! Above all else, be authentic to yourself and your brand, and your following will grow over time.
After the first session, I had a few minutes to walk around and explore the venue. If there is one thing I noticed about Create + Cultivate even before I attended their conference for myself, it’s that their attention to detail is flawless. Literally every aspect of every little corner was decorated to a T, and I wanted nothing more than to photograph every nook and cranny I could!
After walking around the indoor part of the venue for a bit, I headed to the Main Stage for my second session of the day, which focused on working with brands and approaching them with your own project pitches.
10:35 AM :: Session #2 The Art of the Pitch
The second panel invited Tina Craig of Bag Snob, Lynsey Eaton of Tomboy KC, Caroline Harper Knapp of House of Harper, and Genevieve Ascencio of Factory PR to speak about their experiences and insights with brand collaborations.
This panel turned out to be one of my favorites because there were an exceptional amount of anecdotal stories to accompany each of the little lessons that were brought up in discussion. The bottom line that I took away from this panel was this…Come from a place of passion. Whether you’re pitching a new idea to a company or simply maintaining an existing brand relationship, people will thrive on your ideas if you are passionate about them. And as a matter of fact, if you are passionate about your ideas, you will naturally spend more time on them, resulting in a more developed and well-thought out pitch. On that same note, use your passion and your personal experiences to show that you have a unique perspective. Only do what only you can do. And tell the brand this. Make it known why you are the best person to be doing this and how you will use these skills to promote their company (and yours).
As for pitching new ideas to brands, make sure to speak to them through their experiences and not your own. Do your research and learn who you are talking to and why they should listen to your ideas. This was definitely a point that I hadn’t thought about before and really hit home. As for negotiating with brands, make sure to stand up for yourself and your brand. Set a baseline for your worth and don’t go below it. But on the other hand, don’t immediately decline unpaid partnerships. These unpaid opportunities can lead to bigger things down the road. So don’t be afraid to go after it if it is something you truly believe in doing. And if an opportunity arises which challenges you in new ways, don’t be afraid to say yes. You can figure it out and grow because of it. So many great take-aways from this panel for sure.
After the second panel, we moved back outside to the ShopStyle stage for our third session on getting creative at your current job.
11:40 AM :: Session #3 Pushing Boundaries
The third panel invited Brooke Brinkman of Simon G., Claudia Naim Burt of Framebridge, Alexis Avery Cittadine at Bebe, Nick Stenson of Matrix, and Elizabeth Monson of Lou & Grey to give their thoughts on creativity in the work place.
One of the main lessons I took away from this panel was that bloggers are taking over the role previously held by celebrities when it comes to brand advertisement. As opposed to most celebrities, bloggers engage with their audience and the consumer-to-blogger connection is more relateable. In addition, because bloggers have done their research and know their reader’s demographics, a blogger’s audience is more well-known which is highly attractive for brands seeking collaborations for specific groups of people. And the biggest thing that sets bloggers apart from strictly brand advertisement?…Story-telling. Bloggers captivate their readers with stories and put brands’ products into context with readers’ lives. This is the main advantage bloggers have over brand advertisements and it is a major reason why brands have started utilizing bloggers to reach their target audiences. It’s an exciting time for bloggers indeed!
After this third panel, we had a boxed lunch outside in the sunny Dallas weather.
12:40 PM :: Break Time Around the Venue
After finishing up my lunch, I had some extra time to explore more of the venue, including all the little pop up shops and adorable decor.
Brands such as bar III, Lou & Grey, Fossil, Vasaline and Framebridge were there. And Who What Wear even had samples of their soon-to-be clothing line at Target, which is currently being sold in stores now!
After strolling around the pop up shops for a bit, it was time to head to my mentoring session with Kendi Skeen of Kendi Everyday!
2:00 PM :: Mentoring Session with Kendi Skeen
It was kind of a dream-come-true to meet with Kendi. I absolutely adore her style and her blog. She was even more down to earth and kind than I could have imagined. She encouraged me to reach out to brands even though I feel as though I’m still new to the blogging world. I’m looking forward to keeping in touch with her and seeing how her blog evolves. Did you see her new site redesign that just launched a few weeks ago? It’s stunning.
After our mentoring sessions, we headed back outside to the ShopStyle stage for our final panel on creating a unique brand vibe.
3:15 PM :: Session #4 Brand Vibes
The fourth panel invited Camille Styles, Julia Engel of Gal Meets Glam, Lauryn Evarts of The Skinny Confidential, Mary Seng of Happily Grey, and Sophia Rivka Rossi of Hello Giggles to discuss how they turned their respective spaces into unique brands.
The main thoughts of this panel revolved around the idea of creating a unique ‘brand DNA’ for your blog. Everyone started somewhere, even the role models we look up to. You just have to get the ball rolling and let the evolution of your blog (and brand) happen organically, and over time. Above all else, be authentic. Be you. And your unique, one-of-a-kind voice will come of the woodwork over time. Strive to post content the gets to the real you. Find one thing that people can connect with and engage with your audience about it. Approach relationships in the world with the intent of forming connections and making lasting relationships. “You are you. And noboby can copy you.” So be yourself and let the brand DNA come out of your voice and authenticity. It’s not a race. Be patient…and enjoy the journey!
After hearing from the amazing panelists (and taking a few pictures with them), we were invited for a quick cupcake break. (<– my favorite kind of break!)
I then did a little more exploring of the venue before heading to the main stage to get ready for the keynote speakers.
5:30 PM :: Keynote Speakers
First up we heard from Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler, the founders of SoulCycle. I loved how down-to-earth and real they were when talking about their journey. It was so inspirational to hear how they not only identified something they were unhappy with in the fitness world, but went about to change it and make their dreams a reality. I was totally in awe the whole time they were talking. I’ve come to know a lot about SoulCycle through Hallie, who quit her job to become a fitness instructor. And after trying SoulCycle out for myself in Chicago, I can honestly say I am addicted to the philosophy.
In the founder’s words, the three things that make a successful brand are passion, creativity, and mission. And the one skill (if there is just one) that will get you the farthest? Making s**t happen.
Next up we heard from Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere. Now if you know me, you know that I am a HUGE fan of Cupcakes and Cashmere (as are most people) and Emily’s blog is the first blog I started to follow. So hearing her speak and meeting her in person was exhilarating for me to say the least. Turns out, she is just a normal person like everyone else! Isn’t it funny how when we put people onto pedestals, they somehow become gods/goddesses in our minds? Emily is definitely super sweet like I imagined but she’s also got a quirky, funnier side too!
My main take-away from Emily was to learn to trust your voice. She said it took her about a year and a half to finally trust hers, but that it was an important step in growing her blog into what it is today. And I love the way she described her content–aspiration yet attainable. At the end of the day, isn’t that the type of content we all strive to post, regardless of the kind of content we write about? 🙂
And finally we heard from Katherine Power and Hillary Kerr of Who What Wear. Their clothing collaboration with Target was eminent (think: a few hours away) so it was so exciting to hear their thoughts and insights while being on the cusp of something so huge for their company. And as a matter of fact, my favorite quote of the night came from their talk. “Come from a place of yes.” It’s almost too simple, no? But there is so much truth in it. If there is one thing I’ve noticed about successful people, it’s that throughout their career (even before they are successful) they have made a commitment to say yes and get things done. Wether you are 100% sure on how to do something or not, you have the ability to say yes and figure it out along the way. Don’t sell yourself short before you even start. Be active in your own success.
After the keynote addresses, we all headed to the front of the venue to get our goodie bags and say farewell to all the new friends we had made. Overall, I had a fantastic time at the Create + Cultivate conference in Dallas and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in networking with other bloggers and learning a thing or two from the professionals. In fact Create + Cultivate just announced that their next conference will be held in Los Angeles on May 7th, 2016 and it sounds like they’ve got a great line-up in the works. So whether you are able to attend a blogging conference or not, I hope my recap of the Create + Cultivate Dallas conference has inspired you to look for blogging events in your own town, or even just to reach out to another local blogger you’d love to meet in person. I’ve learned from this event in particular that the blogging community is so inviting and welcoming of people, and truly is an encouraging community to be a part of.
After learning so much at the Create + Cultivate conference, I thought it would be helpful to you (and me!) to summarize my top five lessons. So here they are!
Five Things I Learned At Create + Cultivate Dallas
- The Blogger Influence. Bloggers have a huge advantage in today’s market. Overall, they are more relateable and accessible to their audience, espeically when compared to the historically celebrity-driven advertising market. And companies know this and want to take advantage of your influence. It’s a great time to be a blogger!
- Mission.Understand why you started your blog and what story you want to tell. Let your brand evolve over time, but never lose sight of your initial vision.
- Define your brand DNA. Experiment with your own style to define a unique brand for yourself. Stay true to you and be authentic. Only you can be you. And people want to know the real you.
- Everyone started somewhere. Stay authentic to your brand and be patient. Success takes time.
- Come from a place of yes. Accept opportunities and challenges that come your way, and figure. it. out. Make it happen, friends! Don’t be afraid to go after it.