The Peanut Butter & Jelly Of Publishing Collaboration

Online publishing can be sticky business. The game keeps changing with the ever-adapting world of native advertising, advertorial, guest columns and shared content. Collaboration between advertisers and publishers is more important than ever.

And that’s where peanut butter and jelly sandwiches come in.

For an interesting experiment, try asking a few people to write instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Tell them they have a time limit of four minutes to write the instructions.

The responses will not only provide insight into everyone's personalities, but it also serves as an instructional tool for giving clear feedback and enabling strong collaboration. If you were someone who didn’t know what a sandwich was, how would you interpret the instructions you got back? Trust me, it gets messy quickly.

Below are five examples of messy collaboration (and sandwiches), followed by one example of clear communication that will result in strong collaboration. These are all real PB&J sandwich instructions I’ve received from colleagues over the years.



Silly at times, these instructions definitely serve as quality reminders on how to approach publisher/advertiser collaboration.

Overly playful and creative

Here we see song lyrics used to playfully communicate the requirements of making a PB&J. While the message stands out and begs to be read, it lacks functional applicability.

Creative communication should be “additive” and not “primary.” Make the requirements clear, then use creativity to showcase the tone desired or the emotional feeling you wish to have evoked. When communicating instructions, always follow this order:

1) Purpose: Why are you engaging in the activity?

2) Message: What do you want to say?

3) Tone: How do you want to say it?

Inconsistent language

In these instructions, we see the writer using the word “optional” in two different ways. In the first instance, “optional” means the butter can be excluded completely. In the second instance, “optional” means the same thing, but could easily be interpreted as the knife for spreading the butter being optional.

So much communication, especially between people in different companies, is done in written format without a mutual review of the written communication’s meaning. This can create scenarios where valuable time is lost due to wild goose chases when inconsistent and confusing language is used.

Step out of your own shoes and make sure to think about how someone else would interpret your instructions. Time is at a premium. Publishing is a tough business with low margins. Make sure communication is optimized.

Colloquial, fuzzy languag
"Mash.” Consider what you do when you “mash” potatoes, “mash” Playdoh together or “mash” up two songs. “Mash” two pieces of bread together or “mash” a sandwich into your face, and you probably aren’t going to get the results you are looking for.

Emotional language such as “mash” should not be used to impart practical needs. Use emotional language to impart desired tone or voice. Use unemotional language for requirements.

Otherwise, your audience could focus on the wrong priorities. This could restrain creative thinking or result in lack of breadth of thought.

Overly prescriptive
Too many details can create confusion about what is necessary and what is recommended. Be clear on the difference between “have-to” and “consider.”

Split your communication into two categories: Requirements and thoughts. This allows your collaborator to understand what is required, while still allowing your thoughts to contribute to the creative direction.

Native advertising is wide open for interpretation. Leave room for serendipity.

Requires interpretation
A common turn of phrase for you might sound like Greek to someone else. In these instructions, “willy nilly” could be readily misunderstood by the recipient.

Being too brief on descriptive terms can leave people guessing. If something is important to ask for, then take time to fully describe what it is. There's a difference between too prescriptive and clear. Provide detail to explain, but leave out if not a requirement.

People don’t like to show they don’t know something, which often results in fear of asking questions. People end up taking the much more dangerous route of guessing a meaning, instead of asking a meaning.

Not only must you make sure to not use language that requires interpretation, but you must also be sure to create an open, safe environment where collaborators aren’t afraid to ask the simple question: “What do you mean?”

The right way

Communication used to drive collaboration should be clear, concise and not open to interpretation. Room should be given for creative expression (your choice on type of bread, peanut butter and jelly).

Requirements create a checklist. Adding goals and desired emotion can truly inspire.



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