Bridging the divide between academia and practitioners

Nektarios Thempelikos

Where and how do academics communicate their research? And are traditional academic publishing channels helping us to reach the broadest possible range of 'real world' practitioners?

Dr Nektarios Tzempelikos is a Senior Lecturer in our Faculty of Business and Law. His research interests include key account management, relationship marketing and customer value in the business-to-business (B2B) context. Nektarios’ research has supported public and private organisations and been widely published.

How do we bridge the divide between academia and practitioners?
By changing where and how we communicate our research. Genuinely helping practitioners to solve managerial and real world problems and advancing marketing practice will only come from a rethink of the academic’s role in the process.

What was your starting point for this work?
I was interested in examining what I perceived as a gap between the Business Marketing and Business Studies research undertaken in universities (usually communicated through traditional academic channels) and the needs of marketing practitioners and the channels they used for accessing information.

Can you give an example of this in practice?
As academics, we’re required by our universities and employers to strive for publication in academic or prestigious journals. However, as part of my work, I provided results of qualitative analysis showing that, for example, only 7% of marketing practitioners had heard of the Journal of Marketing, which is the world’s most prestigious marketing journal. This didn’t indicate that they read it, merely that they knew about it. In contrast, if I have an article published in The Economist, the practitioner readership and awareness of my work will be very high, but no one within the university sector will be aware of it or care about it. It will also have low to no impact on the progression of my academic career.

Why is it important to bridge this divide?
It has broader relevance in terms of what we do and why we do it. There are two main schools of thought: one suggests academics must be ‘academics’, in the sense that their primary concern is to advance knowledge and nothing beyond. The other suggests that Business Studies must be practical and applied; it should contribute to marketing practice. Our conclusion was somewhere in between. There should be more of a balance between advancing knowledge and addressing real-world problems.

What has caused such a gap?
I think it’s the nature of Business Studies as a discipline. We like to think it’s an applied research subject and there to help decision makers, but in practice this is not the case. Practitioners want practical, easy-to implement solutions to their problems, conveyed to them in a way that’s easy to access and digest. If we go back to the academic journal example, there are issues with relevance and format. The research is likely to be presented as an 8,000- to 10,000-word article. It will have taken up to two years to progress through the review process, before being published in a journal that the practitioner is not aware exists. Academics in the main produce really good work, but we need to get it out there in different ways to have an impact.

What else can be done?
We can go back to basics – right back to PhD programmes in universities and how they’re structured. PhD students usually come through a Masters degree, with no previous experience in the practitioners’ world. As they graduate to PhD level, they evolve into academics, isolated from the business world. As a consequence, the PhD lacks applicable managerial relevance. We believe there’s scope for universities to reconsider some elements of their PhD programmes, perhaps through adopting part-time PhD programmes with practitioners or requiring that PhD theses are assessed with managerial relevance also in mind. Anglia Ruskin’s professional doctorate programmes are a good example of this as they are a route to a doctorate degree for people who are working and want to use research for developing their professional practice.

Research matters

What inspired you?

It was realising there was such a gap between practitioners and academics in the field of Business-to-Business (B2B) Marketing. Academics are producing large amounts of research, but disseminate it in ways that practitioners in the real-world never see, hear or are even interested in. There’s no benefit to writing dense articles with extremely complicated terminology if fewer than ten people are ever going to read them – none of whom are practitioners in the field. In many ways, we’re just talking to ourselves.

Any surprises?

The response rate from the academics approached for the study was very interesting. It was almost 50% lower than that from practitioners. There’s a message for us here.

Why does this research matter?

The main importance of this study is to highlight a knowledge transfer gap and encourage academics to think about their own role in this area. If we genuinely want to help practitioners solve their managerial and real-world problems and advance marketing practice, we need to adapt our thinking somewhat. It will not be difficult or costly; it’s simply a matter of will and attitude.

Research funding

The research was part-funded by the

Anglia Ruskin Research Excellence Award

Reading matter

Improving relevance in B2B research: analysis and recommendations

Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing (2*ABS, Impact Factor: 1.000) (forthcoming) Brennan, R., Tzempelikos, N., and Wilson, J.

With sincere thanks to co-authors:

  • Dr Ross Brennan
  • University of Hertfordshire
  • Dr Jonathan Wilson
  • Faculty of Business and Law
  • Anglia Ruskin University
  • And to:
  • Dimitra Tsokanta, Project Research Associate