David Stewart, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing (JPPM) sat down with the American Marketing Association at Winter AMA 2016 to share a his thoughts on impact, theory, and other topics related to the state of JPPM as well as scholarly publishing and the peer-review process in general.
1. What does it mean to publish an impactful paper? Can you give one or two exemplar articles from your journal that demonstrates how your journal approaches impact and relevance?
Impact can be measured in numerous ways. Most journals share an interest in citation counts over time, immediacy, and mentions in the business and popular media. These are important operational metrics but there are others. However, such operational metrics are not really the final goal. Rather they are just surrogates for a paper’s ability to influence the direction of future research, instruction in the classroom, management practice, consumer behavior, and public policy, among many other things that a paper might influence.
The impact of the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing can also be found in the use of its contents in judicial proceedings, regulatory hearings, and social marketing efforts. An example of a very impactful paper that was published in JPPM a decade ago is one authored by Bas Verplanken and Wendy Wood entitled “Interventions to Break and Create Habits” (Spring 2006). This paper is among the most frequently cited of all papers published in JPPM but the reason it is highly cited and impactful is because it addresses an important problem, changing behavior that has become habitual, by building a strong conceptual framework of understanding the persistence of habit that is well-grounded in theory. The power of the paper is found its extension of this understanding to the identification of intervention strategies that are practical and easy to understand. The contribution of the paper lies in its simultaneous contributions to theory and practice. The pervasiveness of the phenomenon addressed by the paper, habit, also made its contribution very generalizable.
A more recent example of impact is a paper authored by Jesse Catlin, Connie Pechmann and Eric Brass entitled “Dangerous Double Dosing: How Naïve Beliefs Can Contribute to Unintentional Overdose with Over-the Counter Drugs” (Fall 2015). Even before the paper appeared in print it had received attention from several media including Science Daily and the New York Times and the Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition mentioned in the paper in its campaign to educate consumers about proper dosing. The paper addressed a topic that is important and the implications of the paper were immediately clear. Both of these examples illustrate a characteristic of impactful papers that is too seldom found in papers submitted to JPPM: the identification of a clear contribution and specific implications for public policy.
2. What are the most common strengths of papers that are eventually accepted at your journal? What are the worst fatal errors by authors that doom manuscripts at your journal?
3. Complete and discuss the following sentence: “When a young scholar gets a rejection letter, the first thing they should do is …”
When a young scholar gets a rejection letter, the first thing they should do is take a deep breath and go for a walk. When immediate rush of disappointment, and perhaps anger, has dissipated re-read the paper to identify what was said that was positive about the paper and what shortcomings led to the rejection.
While rejections are painful they can also be important learning opportunities; successful scholars over the long term learn from rejection. It is also likely to be helpful to share the reviews with a mentor or scholar friend to obtain their perspective and, if the young scholar is lucky, their encouragement.
I have had my own share of papers that were rejected. Editors have been authors first and have experienced rejection. There is no single rejection that stands out; there have been so many. Most often individual papers are part of a longer term stream of work that continues even if work on the specific paper does not.
4. When you took over as editor, what did you view as the biggest challenge for the journal?
5. Given the increasing methodological sophistication in marketing journals, some are lamenting that theory is being given too little emphasis. Do you agree/disagree? What is the role of theory in an impactful paper?
The best papers, those that have significant impact, are built on theory and contribute to extending theory. Sophisticated methodology applied to a trivial research question will have little impact even if the paper is published.
The frequent lament that theory is given too little emphasis reflects at least two characteristics of scholarship in marketing. First, good, purely theoretic papers are very difficult to write. The contribution of such papers must rest on the logical power of the contribution. Nevertheless, there are numerous examples of such papers in our marketing literature (see the Verplanken and Wood paper discussed above for one example).
Second, much of the “theory” in many empirical papers is a thin veneer designed to justify empirical research rather than an effort to seriously test a theory or compare the explanatory power of competing theories. Serious tests of theory, and especially tests of competing theories are also difficult to do well. Nevertheless, there is ample evidence that the more impactful papers in marketing are those that make a strong contribution to theory. Editors long for more submissions with theoretical contribution.
6. Reflecting on the review process at your journal, what advice do you have for authors in their communications to the review team via “response to reviewer” notes? On the other side of the coin, what advice do you have for reviewers?