Serving Two Masters: Perspectives on Consulting

Jacob Jacoby, New York University
ABSTRACT - After briefly describing the genesis of this session devoted to the pros and cons of consulting, the author suggests that the ACR Executive Committee consider reserving a section in each ACR Proceedings for commentaries, rejoinders, etc. which refer to earlier proceedings.
[ to cite ]:
Jacob Jacoby (1985) ,"Serving Two Masters: Perspectives on Consulting", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, eds. Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Moris B. Holbrook, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 144.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, 1985      Page 144

SERVING TWO MASTERS: PERSPECTIVES ON CONSULTING

Jacob Jacoby, New York University

ABSTRACT -

After briefly describing the genesis of this session devoted to the pros and cons of consulting, the author suggests that the ACR Executive Committee consider reserving a section in each ACR Proceedings for commentaries, rejoinders, etc. which refer to earlier proceedings.

* * *

Both the concept and title for this session stem from a conversation in the fall of 1983 when I was approached by Morris Holbrook and Beth Hirschman with the request that I put together an ACR symposium to reflect upon the pros and cons of consulting. In expressing their views, both argued that "it is impossible to serve two masters basic and applied research" because "being relevant" required sacrificing basic scholarly values. However, since they knew that others, myself included, held differing opinions, they believed that something might be gained from having an expression of views on the matter.

Considering their approach to consulting, academicians can probably be separated into one of three categories. Either they could eschew consulting entirely (the position ostensibly shared by Beth and Morris), they could strive to strike some sort of balance between the two, or they could be seduced into operating primarily or exclusively as consultants. Believing that those in the latter camp would generally not be found at an ACR conference, it seemed appropriate to focus on the contrast between serving one master (where that master is scholarly research) vs. serving two masters (i.e., consulting as something one might do in addition to scholarly research).

Arriving at the current panel of six people -- three representing the one master and three representing the two master contingents -- required that I contact a total of eight other colleagues. Jagdish Sheth and Jerry Wind readily consented to join me in representing the two master side of the ledger. Though both do a considerable amount of consulting, their reputations as scholars are well establish d and impeccable. One need only examine the Author Indices in most of the popular treatises on the subject of consumer behavior in order to verify their enormous contribution to the field.

Obtaining people to represent the one master (qua no consulting) orientation proved a bit more difficult, as three of the first five people whom I approached declined my invitation to participate. Two (including a former president of ACR) declined because they did more consulting than was generally thought to be the case and they didn't want to have these images disturbed. The third person, also an ACR president, turned down my invitation because he had an inkling that the session might degenerate into an emotional, finger-pointing affair and he didn't want to be part of that. It is unfortunate that he turned out to be exceedingly prescient in this regard, despite my efforts to the contrary (e.g., witness the following instruction from my March 7, 1984 memo to the participants: I would hope that [your comments] would be more in the nature of 'Here's why I choose to do what I do' rather than 'What I do is right and what you do is wrong'.

With Jim Bettman and Russ Belk already committed, I decided to invite Morris Holbrook to join the program. After all, not only did he have strong views on the subject, but it was he who got me into the predicament in the first place. The six participants, and the alternating one-master -- two-master sequence in which they were scheduled to speak, were Russ Belk, Jag Sheth, Jim Bettman, Jerry Wind, Morris Holbrook and the present writer.

Though all participants were invited to prepare a paper for publication in the ACR Proceedings, only one (Morris Holbrook) chose to do so. When consenting to put the session together, it had not been my intention to prepare a formal paper. However, several readings of the Holbrook piece dictated a change of mind.

All of which brings me to a parenthetical point which I would like to raise for the ACR Executive Committee's consideration. Time did not permit me to prepare as thorough and polished a "comment" as I would have liked, nor to obtain pre-publication reactions from trusted colleagues. Moreover, I am certain that there are others who have worthwhile comments to make, both on the papers delivered in this session as well as on papers delivered in other sessions at this conference. Yet there is no vehicle by which they can make such comments. This being so, perhaps the ACR Executive Committee ought to give some thought to reserving a certain number of pages in each volume of the proceedings for commentaries and rejoinders on papers which had appeared in the preceding issue (or issues). (This is particularly relevant for non-refereed papers. As things stand now, the authors of these papers can say virtually anything they please, with little or no concern regarding being held accountable for their remarks.) Naturally, procedures would have to be devised to insure that standards were maintained, but surely this could be worked out. At the very least, especially for those who publish unrefereed papers, this would provide added incentive to write responsibly; for those whose work might have been treated unfairly, this would provide an opportunity to restore equity; and for all of us, this would lend a measure of excitement to receiving the annual edition of our proceedings.

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