The academic world has long wondered about the factors that lead some research scholars to publish prolifically in the top journals in marketing. Especially intriguing is the consistency of a select few research scholars who rank at the top of the most productive researchers in marketing, year after year. Is there a secret formula? If yes, what is it? What does it take to follow in their footsteps and build a strong publication record over the years? AMA DocSIG reached out to the top 5 researchers in the Author Research Productivity List for Premier AMA and Premier Marketing Journals (2011 – 2020) to learn more about their productivity and consistent presence in the Most Published lists. We reached out to Dr. Pradeep Chintagunta, Dr. Darren Dahl, Dr. Dhruv Grewal, Dr. Rajdeep Grewal, Dr. Christian Homburg, Dr. V. Kumar, and Dr. Robert Palmatier who collectively represent the top 5 researchers in the Author Research Productivity List for Premier AMA and Premier Marketing Journals to gain insights on researching and publishing that can benefit doctoral students and young researchers. Unfortunately, at time of the publication of this article, we were unable to receive responses from Dr. Dhruv Grewal and Dr. Palmatier. The insights from the other top researchers shed light on the question of whether research is driven by “nature” or “nurture,” or a combination of both. The top 5 researchers who shared their insights all agreed that that a lot of factors have contributed to their consistent research productivity. Some of the most important factors in consistently publishing in top marketing journals are intrinsic qualities, or the “nature” of individual researchers—for instance, hard work, resilience, passion for research, and willingness to learn. Some other factors are extrinsic and depend on the individual researcher’s environment that “nurtures” them, for instance, collaborations with research teams or coauthors, discussions with the marketing academic community, and interactions with managers. We delve deeper into these intrinsic and extrinsic factors in this article.
According to Dr. Rajdeep Grewal, hard work is a key intrinsic factor for researchers to consistently publish in top journals. Most of the top researchers we spoke to also emphasize the importance of persistence to go through the tough process of publishing quality research. Dealing with the review process and manuscript rejection is difficult for all researchers, even the most productive researchers. Their success lies in their ability to stay motivated even in the face of the rejection and learn from reviewers’ feedback. Dr. Kumar reveals, “For me, getting articles accepted is very difficult, and it wears me out. It is tough to keep the motivation high when manuscripts keep getting rejected. But when I work with coauthors and doctoral students, we all need to build the confidence so that we do not give up but keep working with hope. Therefore, persistence, and learning to survive the rejection are two necessary traits.” The importance of being resilient in dealing with manuscript rejection is echoed by Dr. Chintagunta, who stresses, “We need to be tenacious without viewing the review process as adversarial”. He says, “We get rejected all the time; the question is what do we do after that so hanging in there and taking the comments seriously is important.” Dr. Dahl believes that the secret to success in publishing lies in learning from the review process and feedback. He discloses, “Like everyone, I have a lot of rejection decisions! I think those that are successful at publishing are able to take learnings from the rejection decisions or tough reviews and reapply themselves to the research challenge. That is often easier said than done, since rejections are so tough, but I think this is a big factor in success.” While acknowledging that dealing with manuscript rejection can be potentially demotivating and create disharmony, Dr. Kumar notes that, “I always believe that better times are ahead, and I keep working.”
At the same time, the dynamic nature of marketing and the evolutions in the field foster a conducive environment for researchers to work on timely, relevant, and new and interesting topics. As Dr. Dahl mentions, “Marketing is continually evolving in terms of topics of interest, approaches to data collection, statistical tools utilized, and expectations/norms in the research exposition.” The top journals look for new, interesting topics and value innovative submissions. As a result, Dr. Kumar believes that the newness and timeliness of the topic are important, but the research must follow “the principle of rigor and relevance as the foundation”. The identification of new and interesting topics for research implies that researchers need to stay updated on emerging topics of interest. Dr. Rajdeep Grewal notes, “Staying current with methodological advances, working on important topics – either emerging ones or topics that managers consider to be important – has helped me consistently publish in top journals.”
In order to identify truly interesting topics and publish with impact, Dr. Homburg relies on his interactions with managers, saying, “I regularly talk with managers about their struggles and successes. Even though their tactics with immediate returns are intriguing, it is mostly their strategic choices that make for substantive topics.” He also advises researchers and doctoral students to base their research on managerially relevant phenomena rather than on data availability. Dr. Homburg cautions, “A significant share of research appears to be driven by data availability instead of starting from phenomena relevant to managers. Research from the ivory tower is rarely impactful. Marketing research that can change the way managers think and act has an impact. Sadly, many PhD programs put too little emphasis on marketing strategy issues.”
Dr. Dahl suggests a different approach to ensure that the research is focused and directed toward publication from the start. He takes his cue from the top journals by being aware and mindful of what they are looking for, identifying the journal that best fits the research, and bringing innovative ideas and methods to the research. According to him, “I watch the signals sent by the editors of these journals and I also look to see how I can personally improve my own approach to research in the methods and topics I look to pursue. At the outset of research projects, I look to the journal that would best fit for the project. Importantly, the conceptualization and empirical work are built out to fit the journal – being purposeful about what you target as outlet is important. I think I try to put a high value point on being innovative and creative in the questions I tackle, the experimental designs I utilize, and/or the variables I work with.”
Regardless of the approach that researchers choose to develop their ideas, Dr. Chintagunta urges researchers to “stay passionate about research and be open to learning about new ideas and methods” as they keep publishing in top journals. The collaborations of the top researchers with their research team and coauthors contribute immensely to their consistent productivity, motivation, and learning over the years. Dr. Kumar recognizes the vital role of his research team, saying, “I am fortunate to have great coauthors and the opportunity to learn from them constantly.” Collaborations with other researchers and doctoral students provide opportunities for learning and skill development and create encouraging and motivating work environments that promote quality research. According to Dr. Homburg, “I think the research team I work with is a big part of the consistency. I have been blessed with amazing coauthors – people that contribute so much and are fun to work with. I look to work with people that augment my skill set and make the research better.” The support of the wider marketing community in developing research ideas is also critical. Dr. Chintagunta identifies this as a key factor in his research productivity, narrating, “Being surrounded by the wonderful marketing community has helped me consistently publish in top journals. Beginning with my colleagues, students (current and former) and everyone else in the profession who is willing to have a research conversation that may (or in many cases, may not) go anywhere.”
The top researchers also have words of help and encouragement for researchers and doctoral students who struggle with the publication hurdle. According to them, any research that makes it to publication needs to be well developed, relevant in a broader context, and have a clearly defined contribution. Dr. Homburg believes in prioritizing quality over quantity and underscores the significance of publishing impactful research, saying, “Substantive issues require much research, thought, and time to develop. One thoroughly developed paper easily outweighs the long-term impact of several quick-win pieces. Aiming for interesting and high-quality projects helps me consistently publish in top journals.” In his experience of reading and reviewing manuscripts over the years, Dr. Homburg believes that researchers need to consider the relevance and implications of their research to managers in the real world. He explains, “Papers that did not pass the publication hurdle commonly suffered from being too narrow. Research typically focuses on very specific issues. For example, whether some abstract environmental variable Z moderates firm capability X’s relationship on performance measure Y. In reality, however, many marketing challenges appear in a broader context. Therefore, I recommend young scholars, especially, to take a step back and consider the broader implications of their research.” Dr. Dahl identifies the need to be very clear about the contribution of the research (theoretical, substantive, and/or methodological) as one of the biggest lessons that he has learned over time. According to Dr. Dahl, the contribution hurdle is the greatest barrier that needs to be overcome to publish in the top journals and researchers need to define the contribution of their research clearly. He urges, “Keeping the contribution as the central goal and being able to clearly express what the contribution of the work is, is paramount to landing your work.”
While these top researchers acknowledge that multiple different factors contribute to their consistent research productivity, their insights suggest that research is driven by a combination of “nature” and “nurture”. The environment around a researcher (collaborations, managerial interactions, and networking in the marketing community) can help in the identification and development of a research idea for publication. However, there is no substitute for hard work and passion in converting a research idea to an impactful publication. The researcher will need to draw on their inner strength and resilience to handle rejection from reviewers and stay motivated through the review process. Undoubtedly, the advice of the top researchers in the field will be valuable in enabling young researchers and doctoral students in building a strong and impactful publication record.