Publicly Engaged Scholarship: An Answer to Why the “Shoemaker’s Children Go Barefoot” in Marketing

Jerome D. Williams
Academic
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Jerome D. Williams
Key Takeaways

 The essay by Ozanne and Davis offers one way to turn this problem around, and I fully endorse this approach, not only as a faculty member for the past 30 years but also now as a Provost. 

​I Introduced Myself as a “Professor of Marketing” ....

For nearly 30 years as a faculty member, one of my main interests has involved research related to marketing and public health, especially as this research impacts multicultural segments of the population. On many occasions, though, I have felt like a “lone voice crying out in the wilderness.” For example, I was the only individual with a marketing background appointed to serve on the Institute of Medicine committee to undertake a comprehensive study of the science-based effects of food marketing on the diets and health of children and youth in the United States, which produced the landmark 2006 report Food Marketing to Children: Threat or Opportunity?  

Also, I am one of only a handful of marketing scholars who are members of the African American Collaborative Obesity Research Network (AACORN), a national group of public health researchers and community health advocates to address the marketing and societal implications of the obesity epidemic, primarily related to communities of color. I mention these examples not to bring attention to myself, but rather to raise an important question: Why has the Marketing discipline been so historically absent on this and many other issues related to societal impact? The answer is clear: In the public health community, Marketing is a dirty word.


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One of the first things I noticed many years ago when I first started attending public heath meetings, conferences, and special task forces to which I was appointed was a strange response: Whenever I introduced myself as a “Professor of Marketing,” the room got silent, and I could almost hear people whispering “Who let him in?” As I reflected on this, I thought, how could this be? After all, we’re “marketers.” Who is better suited to present our brand image in a positive light. However, it was a classic case of the “shoemaker’s children going barefoot”—that is, some professionals don’t apply the skills they’ve honed to themselves.

Publicly Engaged Scholarship

However, things are turning around. The essay by Ozanne and Davis “Making Research in Business Have More Impact: A Relational Engagement Approach​” offers one way to turn this problem around, and I fully endorse this approach, not only as a faculty member for the past 30 years but also now as a Provost. My job now entails the task of motivating faculty to pursue this route as one solution to the problem of the shoemaker’s children going barefoot in marketing. Another route is what I call “publicly engaged scholarship” (PES), which is related and designed to achieve the same objectives.


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Commentary on Ozanne and Davis’s “Making Research in Business Have More Impact: A Relational Engagement Approach”

Anne M. O’Leary-Kelly, Senior Associate Dean at the University of Arkansas also offers thoughts on Ozanne and Davis' column.

As the Marketing discipline continues to evolve, I’ve noticed a growing new generation of scholars who are very interested seeing a shift in institutional policies about rewards for their research and how these polices can align with changing cultural values and ways of measuring productivity and scholarship. Many in this new generation deeply value community engagement and are interested in expanded ways to measure excellence, especially as it relates to promotion and tenure. We must move away from restrictive policies that limit evaluation to a constrained set of formula, analytics, and metrics, as this is leading our field toward becoming siloed communities of specialists whose work is read primarily only by other, similar specialists.

How Should Impact Be Measured?

We often talk about our work having impact, but how should impact be measured? I vividly recall a faculty discussion in which I was involved a number of years ago where we were evaluating someone I would call a “publicly engaged scholar” for consideration for a position in our department. I mentioned that this person had great impact. One of my colleagues chimed in that this person actually lacked impact because there were no publication in Journal of Consumer Research or Journal of Marketing Research on the CV. My response was that those journals are only one measure of impact, there are other ways—for example, this person’s work had been published in respectable marketing journals and had been cited on several occasions in cases going to the U.S. Supreme Court; in my opinion, the latter indicated even greater impact. To this, my colleague challenged, “That’s not real impact!” As long as our discipline continues to be susceptible to “value monism” and does not move toward more “value pluralism,” we will continue to be plagued by the “shoemaker’s children going barefoot” syndrome. (For an excellent essay on this, see Alan Wolfe’s “The Vanishing Big Thinker” in The Chronicle Review). ​ 

To address this condition, we need more of the “relational engagement approach,” as advocated by Ozanne and Davis​. We need more of the type of research that is emanating from scholars in the AMA Marketing & Society Special Interest Group. We need more research of the type emerging from the Transformative Consumer Research​.

When I first became Provost a year ago, I sent out a memo to the entire faculty clarifying what I meant by PES and what the implications were for those who wanted to pursue it, and for those who wanted to stick to doing more traditional research and were comfortable with the traditional metrics for evaluating that kind of research. I pointed out that in my view, it is inappropriate to view PES scholarship through a lens of “either/or,” whereby all faculty are viewed as being primarily involved in either “traditional” or “publicly engaged” scholarship. I believe the correct lens is “both/and,” whereby faculty who have been doing traditional research can and will most likely continue to do so, while those pursuing PES also can thrive and promote excellence using expanded rigorous criteria for excellence. I might also add that many of the most esteemed institutions across the country are moving in this same direction.

Marketing Is a NOT Dirty Word

Interestingly, if you go back and look at the history of the formation of the American Marketing Association, you would find that a key motivational factor was to address some criticisms against marketing—that is, to “market Marketing.” However, over the years, we have moved away from marketing Marketing, to the point that today our discipline has a tarnished image in the public health community and in most organizations focused on advancing a better quality of life in society—and to some extent, among many consumers, who believe that “Marketers are those folks who make you buy things you don’t want!”

As someone who has “labored in the vineyards” for a number of decades trying to dispel the notion that “Marketing is a dirty word” and conducting and highlighting Marketing research that contributes to society and making the world a better place, I look forward one day to walking into a room of my public health colleagues, introducing myself as Marketing Professor/Provost, and having people stand up and cheer! I believe that publicly engaged scholarship and relational engagement approaches will help get us there!


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Author Bio:

 
Jerome D. Williams
Jerome D. Williams is Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost at Rutgers University - Newark where he is also Distinguished Professor and Prudential Chair in Business.
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