Letting Your Brand Shine Through: An Intentional Approach to Your Brand at Camp

Jenn Bender, MBA
May 2015
Your personal brand matters. Wait — before you roll your eyes or flip the page because personal brand sounds cheesy, consider this: What three words would your camp supervisor and peers use to describe you? Do those words match with how you want your best references to describe you? Personal brand isn’t a made-up concept; it is a powerful tool, and it’s easy to use.
 

This Is Relevant for Camp Jobs

The question isn’t whether you want or need a personal brand; it’s whether you are being intentional about yours. Your personal brand is the authentic self you show to others, which drives your reputation and leads directly to opportunities. If this all sounds a bit too forced or like something other people need, consider the many ways a purposeful reputation at camp might help you. At camp, you interact with dozens — maybe hundreds — of people who become your network. Your supervisor might become a formal or informal employment reference for you; your co-leader might know a professor whose research aligns with your interests; the parent of a camper might know other parents looking for a babysitter or nanny.
 
You’re reading this magazine, which tells me that you’re a committed staff member of a camp community. You deserve to show that to people around you. Personal brand isn’t a networking tool; it’s a concept that reminds you to manage your reputation. It isn’t about using people for who they know; it’s about letting your strengths shine through so when people think of you, they’ll be thinking of the best you.
 
Consider these camp staff:
  • Danielle is a camp lifeguard this summer and is pre-law in college. She knows that her strong detail orientation and social justice values are a big part of what drive her to pursue law.
  • Luis is a camp counselor who has always enjoyed working with kids and hopes to continue youth development or education work. His belief in the potential of every child has helped him develop strong rapport-building and conflict-resolution skills.
  • Aliya is an assistant director exploring different career ideas. Her promotions at camp have come as a result of her strong teamwork with other staff and her ability to motivate staff and engage with hundreds of campers each session.
     

Discovering Your Authentic Brand

Your brand is based on what you value, enjoy, and at what you excel. The hard part is that it’s not about what other people expect of you.
 
Try these exercises:
  • Choose five nouns to describe yourself. For example, “artist” or “friend” could be among your self-definitions.
  • Think back and identify five moments you really enjoyed as a child — not five achievements, but five moments you truly enjoyed.
  • Identify five things that motivate you — not five things you’re proud of but that truly build your energy and enthusiasm.
 
Again, the hardest part of this exercise is that we’re likely to pick what other people value. When I was a kid, I obediently practiced piano every night and I was a good history student. My teachers and family might have considered that I enjoyed or was motivated by piano or history, but they would have been wrong. I never enjoyed piano or history; but mastery of information has always motivated me, which is probably why I continued to devote energy to these activities knowing I didn’t enjoy them. Today, demonstrating mastery continues to be an important part of my professional image. My job responsibilities are varied, and some of them aren’t personally interesting; but mastery of the relevant information continues to be fulfilling to me and motivates me to prepare well for meetings for which I might otherwise be unmotivated. As a result, I hope the people I interact with at work see me as dedicated to all areas of my job. Mastery is also probably why I enjoy presenting at conferences and developing curricula, both activities I’ve been able to choose to link with all my jobs.
 
The point is that your personal brand isn’t about what other people expect, but what feels right for you. Your moments might seem silly or small at first — perhaps you really enjoyed make believe when you were a kid (maybe creativity is important to you), or you have always enjoyed making Sunday morning pancakes with your mom (family, routine, or caring for others might be important to you). Danielle may find she’s motivated by hearing other people’s stories (social justice orientation); Luis’ highlighted moments might be one-on-one activities; and Aliya might think of big social events. You might ask others to describe your strengths, but be careful that you review their answers with your own values in mind.
 
Think about your answers and look for themes. Do many of your answers cluster around being with other people versus thinking individually? Do they involve being in leadership or team member roles? Do they represent gathering data or generating creative solutions? Don’t worry about finding perfect answers, but focus instead on generating a list of ideas. You might consider these “ingredients” of your personal brand. Over time, you may wish to make a formal statement about your brand, but that’s something people rarely do until decades into their career. Look back at the descriptions of Danielle, Luis, and Aliya — these are meaningful elements of their brands, even though one wouldn’t publish these statements. Your personal brand is something you know and manage, not something you need to worry about being perfect or complete.
 

Managing Your Brand at Camp

The good news is that it’s not too hard to be intentional about your brand at camp, and you already have a brand. Some of the main ways to be intentional are through your:
  • Regular interactions
  • Affiliations
  • Digital presence
 
The easiest and most important thing to think about at camp is how you interact with others. As a camp staff member, you interact with a wide variety of people, likely ranging from campers to parents, counselors to activity specialists, and nurses to cooks. Luis knows that his ability to build relationships is a critical strength and directly connected to the value he places in every child’s potential. It’s important that Luis remember that his interactions with camp cooks say as much about his relationship-building skills as his interactions with campers. His brand is all about developing and maintaining strong, respectful, and individualized relationships — so he focuses on being present in each interaction he has. Now, of course, what Luis does is a hallmark of good camp staff. I’m sure that Danielle, Aliya, and you all focus on your relationships at camp. But you can’t focus equally on all aspects of relationships. Luis focuses on building individual rapport, whereas Aliya likely focuses less on the personal aspect of relationships and more on finding ways to team up with those around her.
 
You may have the opportunity to build new affiliations at camp, such as joining a staff leadership council or a carnival-planning committee, and you certainly can decide what noncamp affiliations you talk about or make a part of your camp life. Choosing how you spend your time in terms of affiliations builds your reputation. This isn’t about taking a leadership role because it looks good on your resume; that may still be a good idea, but it doesn’t necessarily send a personal message about you. Aliya joins a volunteer group of camp staff who meet after-hours to plan an end-of-summer, camp-wide Color Wars — it may have been very purposeful or just a fun group to join, but either way, it adds some additional support to Aliya’s team-focused brand. Choices that are authentic to your personal brand often don’t take a lot of extra thinking or effort, because they are authentic to who you are.
 
Digital life is intertwined with your personal brand. You know the basics already — pay attention to privacy settings, consider untagging yourself from pictures in which you’d rather not be advertised, and follow your camp’s rules about how you use social media and to whom you can be connected. But don’t just follow these basic expectations; consider, too, how you can leverage social media. Much as you don’t want to have an unprofessional or flashy image on social media, you may not want to have a bland or boring presence. Especially if you’re interested in media or any sort of creative profession, make sure your online presence has personality. Be careful that your profile picture is the image you want to lead your reputation, because it’s often the first way people “meet” you or a former camp peer re-connects with you.
 
Be conscious on Facebook® about your writing; Danielle focuses on sharing articles related to social justice and always edits her posts — even simple ones — because detail-oriented writing is so important to her.
 
Build a LinkedIn® profile if you don’t yet have one, and take advantage of the space to provide a personalized overview of yourself. Actively seek LinkedIn connections rather than waiting for them to find you. Remember that LinkedIn is the primary professional online platform — your picture should be appropriately professional, as should everything in your profile. Be careful of your claims; no one edits what you say about yourself, and it always seems fishy to me when a college freshman describes himself as an “environmental sustainability expert” (try “enthusiast” or highlighting your dedication instead).
 
This is all common sense, but it only works if you’re intentional about it. Take the opportunity a few times this summer to write down a couple goals and check back on yourself. That short amount of time will go a long way.
 

Your Brand beyond Camp

Going beyond these camp tips, you may want to consider building a comprehensive online brand. This might include a personal website, writing regular blog posts, or simply making a standard e-mail signature for yourself that provides a short personal bio or tagline, rather than just your name.
 
However you choose to build your brand, have a great, productive summer! I hope you will bring your authentic self to camp, and show those around you why camp is so lucky to have you.
 
 
Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado.
 
Jenn Bender, EdM, MBA, is CEO of New Sector Alliance, a national nonprofit organization that builds talent for the social sector through fellowship programs. Jenn holds an AB in Psychology and Mathematics from Cornell University, an Ed M from Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and an MBA from Babson College. She serves on the National Board of Directors of the American Camp Association. Reach out to Jenn at jbender@newsector.org.