The Charles Coolidge Parlin Marketing Research Award is the oldest and most distinguished award in the marketing field. This award is given to leading scholars and practitioners in honor of Charles Coolidge Parlin who is considered the pioneer of marketing research. The AMA Foundation is pleased to announce J. Walker Smith as the 2020 Parlin Award Recipient.
J. Walker Smith, Chief Knowledge Officer at Kantar, has been described by Fortune as “one of America’s leading analysts on consumer trends.” He is co-author of four books, including Rocking the Ages, considered a standard in generational marketing, and Life Is Not Work, a Wall Street Journal 2001 top ten work-life book. He was a columnist for Marketing News and a commentator for the public radio show Smart City. He is in the N.C. Advertising Hall of Fame and was a featured expert in Tom Brokaw’s CNBC special, BOOMER$, and narrated the “Generation Boom” bonus content for the Season 7 Mad Men DVD.
Q&A with J. Walker Smith
What does this award mean to you?
“It’s very flattering and very humbling at the same time. It means a lot as kind of professional recognition of the things that I’ve done to try and offer some guidance and some advice to marketers over the years about better ways to do business and satisfy the needs and wants of their customers. It’s a very flattering kind of recognition from my peers.”
Tell me about a mentor you had at some point in your career and what that person taught you.
“There are there are several people who have been influential in in helping me along the way. In graduate school, my mentor was a guy by the name of Philip Meyer. He wrote a book called “Precision Journalism.” He was a Pulitzer Prize winner who was a reporter that took a Nieman [Fellowship, at Harvard] year and studied statistics. He had been impressed at the way in which pollsters … were able to make predictions about elections, and he began to get interested in how you could apply these techniques to journalism. And at the end of his journalism career, he moved to the University of North Carolina to teach and he was my graduate school mentor. I learned from Phil this focus on doing research that had real world applications, because that’s what sales was all about.
Then, as I as I moved into the field, I was introduced to some people who are kind of legendary people in the profession. One of them was Russ Haley, who was kind of one of the first researchers I met who’s the guy who invented attitudinal segmentation techniques when he was at Grey Advertising in the early 60s.
And then I went to work at Yankelovich to work with Kevin Clancy. Kevin is probably the biggest influence on my career. I went to Yankelovich specifically to work with Kevin. What I learned was how to be innovative with new techniques that could advance the discipline in some of the problem solving that research was all about. Kevin also introduced me to how you can communicate some of these things in ways that will influence and be understandable to marketing decision-makers.”
What advice do you have for marketers coming right out of school looking for jobs?
“Today is kind of a difficult marketplace, but this will pass and we’ll get back to where we [were]. There are two things that I say to people when they are trying to figure out where they want to go and how they want to get there. The first thing I say to them is to make sure that you are well-grounded in the skills and techniques of the profession. You may go off and do something else entirely, but you need to make sure that you are grounded in the basic methods of research, and that will continue to make you smarter about everything you do thereafter. When I was in graduate school, I thought I was going to come out and be one of those modelers, who spent their days in dark rooms staring at computer screens making developing predictive equations. So I spent a lot of time studying all the mathematics for that. And then, of course, I have done almost none of that in my career, but it has served me well because that sort of understanding, of what underlies everything that we do, has grounded a lot of what I’ve been able to accomplish. The second thing I say to people is ask for the job. Don’t wait to be discovered. Don’t wait for people to turn their gaze on you. Raise your hand and volunteer. Put in the extra hours, the extra work, the late nights, the weekends and the sweat.”
As the philanthropic arm of the AMA, the AMA Foundation champions individual marketers who are making an impact in our profession and community.