Are Style-Driven Boutique Seminars the New Conference Trend?

Bri Emery and Angela Kohler are traveling the world to host their sold-out, style-driven boutique "anti-conferences" for bloggers.

By Melissa Ward Schorsch June 28, 2013, 8:23 AM EDT

Blogshop events are filled with decor elements such as cheerful flower arrangments and balloons.

Photo: Angela Kohler

Beige. Boring. Bland. These aren’t words one would use to describe Blogshop, a boutique conference that teaches bloggers the ins and outs of Photoshop. The two-day boot camp, which launched in May 2011, teaches attendees the basics of the program and advanced shortcuts, plus provides students a style-driven classroom in which to jump-start creativity and learning.

The concept for Blogshop came when Bri Emery, a Los Angeles–based graphic designer and founder of the popular blog Designlovefest, began receiving requests from fellow bloggers about how Photoshop could improve the visual elements of their blogs. Realizing she couldn’t individually field each request, she arrived at the idea of teaching multiple bloggers at the same time. Emery reached out to her friend Angela Kohler, a photographer and commercial director for brands such as Toyota, Microsoft, and MTV, and asked her to co-teach. The idea: combine the topics of graphics and photography to offer a one-two-punch curriculum. “I realized there was a need for it—people have these great ideas in their head, but don’t know how to execute it,” Kohler says.

With no details ironed out beyond a name for the concept, the duo decided to move forward with the idea and advertised the class on Emery’s blog. “We put it online thinking we’d figure out all the details later and it sold out in one day,” says Emery, noting that, at the time, neither she nor Kohler had any event planning experience.

Originally advertised as a one-time class, the workshop proved popular: since its launch, there have been more than 50 Blogshops taught across four continents, six countries, and 20 cities. The team remains small, but Emery and Kohler credit a “strong and supportive network of people” that have helped Blogshop from the beginning and enabled it to grow at a rapid pace.

A Blogshop class usually has about 25 attendees and costs $773 per person, and while the workshop is geared towards bloggers, Emery stresses that it’s not a bloggers-only club. “We get a lot of people who run small and large businesses who know that blogging is necessary,” she says. “We have all sorts of students, and every mix is different.” The class teaches basic skills such as how to create a layout, retouch and color-correct photos, make animated GIFs, and add textures, borders, and type to images. At the end of the first day is a portrait session, which provides guests with their own picture to modify on day two; the images can then be used as contributor photos and on bio pages.

A stylized setup helps set Blogshop apart from the average conference. The design of the spaces is welcoming, reminiscent of a party, and visually inspiring. Emery and Kohler scout venues that are open, airy, and quirky, then fill the spaces with bold colors and textures through decor elements such as cheerful flower arrangements, oversize balloons, photo booths, geometric garlands, and confetti. “It’s not easy to pay attention in a boring space,” Emery says. “We’re teaching our attendees creative things, and we want to show them a creative weekend.”

In addition to serving Pinterest-worthy food from local caterers, Blogshop also sends students home with gift bags filled with swag from up-and-coming companies like Baggu, Pinhole Press, and BanDo—brands that, unsurprisingly, have skyrocketed in online popularity post-Blogshop. “Brands and caterers are increasingly seeing the exposure they can get because the students are bloggers, so they’re Instagramming everything,” Emery says. “We feel lucky that [Blogshop’s growing roster of caterers and vendors] come to us.”

Kohler and Emery are part of a growing niche of style-driven boutique conferences focused on the blogger community such as the Independent Fashion Bloggers Conference and Alt Summit. As Kohler puts it, these multiday conferences and workshops where style and design are as important as learning function as the anti-conference. “It’s very personal, it’s cozy, and people make real relationships,” she says. Now teaching as many as five Blogshops per month, Kohler and Emery have found a sweet spot of success that stems from refining the brand and building a strong social media presence. “We really pay attention to our students,” Emery says. “We ask a lot of questions and we have a lot of support—our attendees are bloggers, so luckily, the word gets spread very naturally.”

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