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Meet the editor of... Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

An interview with: Wesley Johnston

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Image: Professor Wesley J. JohnstonProfessor Wesley J. Johnston is CBIM Roundtable Professor of Marketing and director of the Center for Business and Industrial Marketing at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University. He has been the editor of Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing (JBIM) since 1993. He is also on the editorial board of several other journals and is the director of the Center for Business and Industrial Marketing. Wesley's research interests include application of behavioural sciences to marketing in the areas of customer relationship management and strategic account programmes, and he has been published in journals such as Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Consumer Research, and Decision Science

The Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing was launched in 1986 as a specialist journal in the field of business and industrial marketing. Currently internationally regarded as a leading publication in its field, it attracts big name authors, such as Shelby Hunt, George Day, Christian Grönroos and Evert Gummeson. Its focus is on business-to-business marketing, that is, how one company/organization markets its goods, services and ideas to another company/organization. Its coverage includes distribution channels, new product development, the buying culture, relationship marketing and the salesforce, and recent themed issues have focused on the relationship of ICT to marketing theory and practice, and relationship marketing.

From dry copy well to topical debate

When Wes Johnston took over as editor of Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing in 1993 (its founding editor, Peter LaPlaca, had decided to leave academia) he faced the editor's worst nightmare – no articles in the pipeline and just three months before the next issue! It was a challenge he relished, however, his long spell as a reviewer having nurtured an ambition to become an editor. A few phone calls to friends for papers rejected elsewhere and the first issue was ready.

Since that first scramble for copy, however, the journal has seen big changes. It has gone from four issues a year to eight, with expanded content which includes a book review section, and case studies and literature reviews as well as the more traditional research-based article.  Far from begging friends for articles, he now encourages contributions on issues in the vanguard of marketing theory and practice, setting the agenda for debate with such topics as customer relationship management, electronic marketing and relationship market – ideas which are now fashionable but which received a first or early airing through editorials, papers, and special issues. The journal has also pioneered b2b studies, with special issues on b2b in South America, South-east Asia and Africa.

International and interdisciplinary

One of the biggest changes, however, lies in the journal's international orientation. Emerald sought to bundle its Journal of International Marketing in with Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, which automatically made for a more international focus. At first, there was just one article with an international perspective per issue; now, the journal is truly international with a third of the manuscripts it publishes from North America, 25 per cent from the UK, and 40 per cent from countries throughout the rest of the world, while Wes and his regional editors together span five continents. The latter are encouraged not only to look after regional contributors, but also to develop special issues about their area (see above). This international perspective, Wes feels, is important because of the nature of b2b marketing, which, unlike consumer marketing, is not restricted by tariffs, and can therefore move freely around the globe.

The journal also has a strong interdisciplinary flavour, which comes not only from the fact that marketing itself draws on economics and psychology, but also from b2b marketing's dependence on management, organizational behaviour theory, sales and sales management (as one of the most important aspects of the marketing mix in this area), and information systems (especially e-business).

The Internet editor, Dennis Pitta, looks particularly at information systems and at new technical tools, but with an applications rather than a technical angle, for example at the role of the Internet in supply chain management. Other articles have looked at the role of cooperation and control with Boeing, and how Coca-Cola has promoted its goods.

From research to practitioner

Wes has deliberately pitched Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing to appeal to both practitioner and academic. As such, its market position lies right between its two competitor journals, the Journal of Business-to-Business Marketing and the Journal of Industrial Marketing Management. Whereas the former journal is very research-based, and the latter highly practitioner oriented, the ideal article for the Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing is both rigorously academic and practically relevant; to quote from the journal's editorial objectives,  "... one that could be used in the classroom to educate graduate students on the theory and practice of business-to-business marketing and read by managers interested in state-of-the-art thinking in this area". The target market for the journal is both the academic who wants to see material within a theoretical framework but with application to the real world, and the streetwise practitioner who wants his or her information within a framework backed by research.

The desire to get a balance between the practical and academic informs the journal's editorial objectives in other ways. Other journals may contain articles with the emphasis on data analysis, but Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing will not publish an article unless there is a strong section on managerial implications. The data should be there in so far as it is necessary to the case or thesis, but does not need to be reported in full unless the author has used a particularly novel methodology, and the emphasis should be on applications. An example of such an article would be "Buyer-seller relationships and information sources in an e-commerce world" Dawn R. Deeter-Schmelz and Karen Norman Kennedy, Vol 19 No. 3, which looks at the role of the Internet in buyer-seller relationships and reports on empirical work involving data collected from purchasing agents. The article culminates however in a discussion about the ongoing role of the salesperson.

Not all articles need to be from an empirical standpoint and based on data; a literature review which synthesizes the literature and puts forward a new framework would also be acceptable, as would a rich descriptive case study. Examples of literature reviews are "Managing the paradox of inter-firm learning: the role of governance mechanisms", by Jakki J. Mohr and Sanjit Sengupta, Vol. 17 No. 4, which puts forward "a conceptual model to help managers and scholars deal with the paradox of inter-firm learning".  "The normative imperatives of business and marketing strategy: grounding strategy in resource-advantage theory" by Shelby Hunt and Caroline Derozier, Vol. 19 No. 1, also has a very strong conceptual framework, but practical application, arguing that "resource-advantage theory...provides a means for understanding the contexts of recent forms of competition".

Discussions as to the practical, business-related implications of empirical research, and conceptual frameworks with strong real-world application, together with executive summaries at the end of most articles, all go towards increasing the journal's practical import. Managers can take the frameworks and discussions and apply them to their own circumstances, while in the classroom students could be encouraged to compare frameworks with examples. Yet other articles are highly descriptive and rooted in contemporary marketing practice, for example George Day's "Managing the market learning process", Vol. 17 No. 4, which looks at how market data can be transformed into marketing knowledge.

Such an editorial mix has taken the journal to the top of the league for marketing journals: Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing is among the top 20 listed journals in the USA and top 10 in the UK, from the point of view of citations. This places it high on the hit list for marketing academics wanting to place papers. In contemporary academic life, the pressure is not only to publish, but to publish well. Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing is listed in 22 indexing and abstracting services, including ISI [Thomson Reuters] alerts. Wes is a firm believer in citation indexes and considers ISI to be very prestigious: "We live in an age when every thought can be published somewhere. I recently heard at a conference that the amount of information that is added to the internet is equivalent to the total spoken word of mankind.  Editors have an important role to play in screening what gets published, and citation indexes also act as good filters". ISI are currently considering JBIM for inclusion in the Social Sciences Citation Index [JBIM is now ranked by Thomson Reuters].

The publishing cycle

Each of the journal's eight issues contains around six or seven papers, so 52 manuscripts are published each year. Only those articles deemed to have a good chance of eventual acceptance are submitted for (triple-blind) peer review; in fact, only 5 per cent of revised articles are subsequently rejected.  A further degree of anonymity and even-handedness is created by Wes delegating the task of selecting reviewers to an associate editor, thus divorcing this part of the quality control process from the initial editorial overview. (As editor he is familiar with his review board's predilections and prejudices such as those who are always negative – "there's always a Dr No on an editorial board".) The only circumstance when he will select the reviewers himself is in the case of a personally invited articles which are submitted to a so-called "friendly review", in which case he will send to two reviewers of his choosing, telling them he intends to accept the article. 

A typical pattern is that one reviewer will be positive, the other negative (even with the best articles), and the third in the middle. In such cases, he makes his own decision as to whether there is value in the manuscript, and if so, he will ask the author to make revisions. He aims to return reviewed articles within 45 days, along with a request that they let him know whether or not they intend to make the revisions. No deadline is imposed for the revised article, as Wes aims to build up a "bank" of three to four issues' worth of articles. The process of second review will take about a month. The time between initial submission can vary between one and two years.

The peer review process

Wes is very sympathetic to the trials of the review process for authors, having himself been on both sides of the publishing fence. "In the physical sciences, you know that if you solve a problem, you will be published. But in marketing, nothing guarantees publication." His advice on dealing with comments is: be objective, and see the comments as trying to improve the article rather than knock it. "It's a natural tendency to see a manuscript as your baby, and be defensive and counter-argumentative. If you leave the comments for a few days, and go back and read them carefully, you may find that they are not as negative as you in fact first thought! Make those revisions which you believe will strengthen the manuscript; if you believe that a comment is wrong, tell the editor so giving your reasons." Another way of dealing with comments with which you do not agree, he suggests, is to include that view in the revised article, but using phrasing that distances yourself e.g. "an alternative view of our findings...".

There will be times when it is not possible to salvage a paper, if the reviewer has found major flaws in the research. In that case, look on the comments as advice on the research itself, which can then be revisited.

Disseminating one's research

As part of the EMX database, available to 1,600 institutions worldwide for teachers, researchers and students to download articles, as well as Emerald's "push" marketing efforts that include sending out contents lists via AMA mailings, any contributor to the journal can be sure of wide dissemination of their research. However, there are also important contributions that you can make yourself, such as the choice of appropriate keywords (picked up by search engines and abstracting services), a good abstract (which will come up in indexing and abstracting services), having your own website with access to your articles, and sending offprints or copies of your article to your peers.

Finding the time

When I tax Wes with the perennial question about how academics can juggle their increasingly complex workload and the balance of teaching, administration and research, he jokes that academia is a great career area, because you can do your 80 hours a week any time you like! His advice, however, is highly practical: success lies in the ability to combine teaching and research in such a way as to gain a degree of synergy between the two. When preparing to teach a course, use your literature review to find research possibilities. Involve your students in research (this has long been done in psychology, where it is a course requirement to participate in experiments). This can be done both at first year level, when you can get them, for example, to interview marketing managers or review websites, and use the resulting research data, and with MBA students, many of whom are working full time and bring workplace expertise. Students on directed studies courses, where the course structure is agreed with the student, can read up on a particular topic, or provide a case study – and both reading and case study can again serve for research.

Many academics also have research assistants, themselves enrolled on research degrees, and often collaboration on research projects can bring advantages to both parties with the senior academic gaining help with publication while the research students get a foot on the publishing ladder.

It's also very important to acquire skills of multi-tasking, which may be difficult for those who have a high need for "closure", or finishing one project before starting another. Wes has three to four research projects on the go at any one time, and sometimes it takes two years from the start of a research project to actual publication.

The joys and frustrations of the job

Wes clearly relishes being at the leading edge of his subject – "shaping the thought area of marketing, and expanding the knowledge base" is the part of the job he enjoys most, while his least favourite job is rejecting manuscripts. Pet frustrations are sloppy, poorly word processed manuscripts, with a lot of typos, and no headings and subheadings. Poor word processing gives the impression of poor research: a manuscript should be editorially correct before review. Another problem is the lack of a positioning statement – what contribution is the research making to the advancement of knowledge. Poor English, too, can be a problem: 40 per cent of manuscripts come from non English-speaking authors who may have difficulty writing in English. While acknowledging Emerald's excellent job in correcting mistakes, Wes recommends in such situations getting a proper editorial review before submission, as bad English can kill a manuscript.

Yet, despite the frustrations, and the hard work (the job takes up at least a day a week, although his department, which contains no less than four journal editors, values his work and supports him), Wes clearly finds the job enjoyable (he gives credit here to the support given him by Emerald, commending the staff for their professionalism), and, having driven the journal to the very top of the league, it's unlikely that he'll allow the copy well to dry up for a long time yet.

Publisher's note

Professor Wesley J. Johnston was interviewed in 2004. The interview was revised in August 2009.

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