Engaging with the “real world” brings academics huge rewards in terms of both teaching and research.
That was the central argument of an inaugural lecture delivered by Tim Hughes, professor in applied marketing at the University of the West of England, on 10 February.
Professor Hughes worked in senior marketing roles at Heinz, Nestlé and two building societies for 17 years and then as a consultant for seven more before joining UWE Bristol in 2002.
He was immediately struck, he told the audience, by the importance of journal articles and “academic-to-academic dissemination” and that there was “less interaction with business than [he] expected”. Given that “the vast majority of academic papers are not read by practitioners and most academics do not publish in practitioner journals”, this resulted in a distinct lack of communication.
As an example of how to bridge the gap, Professor Hughes cited a research project that he had being carrying out with more than 350 people working in advertising and their clients, using in-depth interviews to explore the process of “co-creation”.
Rather than stopping as soon as they had got some publishable results, they made a point of discussing them with practitioners, which not only generated ideas for more research but also ensured that his teaching was au fait with cutting-edge developments in thinking and technology.
To help this happen more often required a change of attitude on both sides. Professor Hughes urged managers to seek out the right academics to work with but not to “treat them as ‘gurus’”, and to remember that “the project needs to have academic challenges as well as business benefits”.
Research centres needed to “establish research and impact as equal priorities” and “team up those who are good at research with those good at engagement”.
Academics, meanwhile, needed to “identify target research users” and “understand what is important to them”, and to focus on them far more clearly in their communications strategies.