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‘During a Crisis or Economic Downturn, Marketing Becomes More Important’

Professor Wesley J. Johnston from Georgia State University, College of Business is a keynote speaker at the April Conference seminar Contemporary Management Research in Emerging Markets. He is a Member of the HSE Council and has been collaborating on projects since 2011 with Olga Tretyak, Academic Supervisor at the Faculty of Management Research and Study Group for Russian Marketing Studies 'Modern Marketing Practices'. During a break at the conference Professor Johnston talked to HSE English News service about the benefits for PhD students of participating in conferences, about the functions of marketing and marketing in Russia and about his fruitful cooperation with HSE. 

— Can you tell us about this year’s initiative to include seminars and workshops for PhD students within the conference framework.

— Yes this is something new that we’ve added to our collaboration, that when the conference is held, that, along with Professor Tretyak, I should be evaluator of the papers and then selecting which students would be in the session, and then asked to be here to hear the papers and make comments back to the students. This is a new dimension of our cooperation.

— Is it a worldwide trend or is it something new that you and Professor Tretyak invented?

— No, that’s a really good question. There’s a group that I belong to called the Industrial Marketing and Purchasing Group and they have a doctoral seminar as part of their annual conference. It’s held before the conference, so it’s a little different (not during the conference) and the doctoral students then attend the conference as well, but they have faculty members who come and read the papers, see the students presentations and then they comment back to the students. Also, I’m the director of a research centre and we have an annual academic workshop to which we invite doctoral students and, it’s the same thing there, we try to help the doctoral students by reading their papers, hearing their presentations and I can’t properly emphasize the importance of this kind of programme for doctoral students. To actually have a presentation in a conference and then get feedback on their presentation and their paper - it’s very valuable in a PhD programme.

To actually have a presentation in a conference and then get feedback on their presentation and their paper - it’s very valuable in a PhD programme.

— How do you evaluate the level of postgraduate students?

— They’re very good. The writing quality, it’s all in English, is very good they’re presentation skills are very good. Of course they have a little bit of an accent but there’s no problem with communication about the ideas or the language.

— Was there anything that struck you, or gave you food for thought for your research?

— One of the things that’s interesting for me is that we have two doctoral programmes at my university. One of them is a PhD and one is for executives who want a doctorate but will probably stay in industry. I find the students here are more similar to our executive doctoral students because they’re doing very grounded projects with real business and have good insight into what’s actually happening in industry . Whereas our PhD students sometimes come directly to our programme without any industry experience. But the students’ papers that I’ve heard so far have been some consumer behaviour experiments but they all seem very well grounded in actual business issues.

— I read that you were conducting a lot of business workshops for executives around the world. Do you have any plans to do that here, in Russia? 

— I’m always ready to go anywhere! I haven’t made any contacts here as far as companies go but typically I work for American companies, Brazilian companies and then my faculty contacts will sometimes find business for us in their countries. I worked in Taiwan with a professor there and we’ve done some work for companies and also I’ve done some work in Finland through an academic contact I have there. 

I find the students here are more similar to our executive doctoral students because they’re doing very grounded projects with real business and have good insight into what’s actually happening in industry. 

— Could you share some ideas about how to develop your relationship with the university?  

— Yes. The relationship I have with Professor Tretyak has been developing over three years and we’ve done special issues of my journal and we’re planning another special issue now with papers on different business models in Russia. So this is probably not my last trip. One of my trips was sponsored by the Fulbright Commission and I was appointed a Fulbright Specialist which means short trips to countries where my particular skills can help develop the academic programme there.

— What are your impressions of the conference? Have you attended anything else yesterday or the day before?

— Yes, I attended a session yesterday. We looked at the programme and found one that was in English. It was very good. It was on the economic data side, comparing, or building a global input/output model to see the amount of global trade between countries and the problems involved in doing that. I think it was an economist from Harvard. My undergraduate degree is in Economics so I found it interesting.

— What kind of major trends in management can you define in developing countries?

— I think marketing is developing, perhaps a little slowly, but I can see some of the studies the students have done, and the growing importance of marketing in Russia . We have some data in the US that during a crisis or an economic downturn marketing becomes more important and so understanding the customer, how to create value for the customer and then innovating is very effective in a crisis because customers are trying to find more value in products, they’re trying to lower their costs, so a supplier who can do that often times, even in crisis, succeeds. 

Marketing is developing, perhaps a little slowly, but I can see some of the studies the students have done, and the growing importance of marketing in Russia. 

— What comes first, the product or the marketing?

— There are two different models. One is a demand side model, that is you do market research to find out what the customer’s needs are and then you develop a market offering to satisfy those needs, but there’s also a supply side model where you have some kind of scientific or technical breakthrough and then you look for a market where there’ll be a demand for it. A good example of that is the Dupont company who developed a fibre that their trademark called Lycra but generically it’s Spandex. They didn’t know what would be a good application for it so they did some market research and they found out that women’s swimsuits would be the perfect application for it. So they had the product and then they found the market but sometimes it’s the other way around, we study the market and then develop the product so there are two models.

— Do you have any impressions of Russian business, Russian marketing? Have you looked into it?

— Yes I have, more as an observer. Not with any companies, but it seems that at some levels there’s a very strong understanding of marketing in the hotels and some of the stores. My specialty is business marketing so I can see it in the consumer products but I haven’t been able to study the business to business relationships so I don’t know how strong the marketing is there.

— Do you have any other impressions of the conference, future cooperation with the university?

— I’m really happy to have such good colleagues here in Russia from Dean Filinov, Professor Tretyak and one of my PhD students from my first visit is a professor now, Alex, and he picked me up at the airport so I have a new friend now.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service 

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