Marketers Without Borders

Philip Kotler
6 min readJan 29, 2021

Marketers Without Borders: Let’s Form This Group

Philip Kotler

I meet many startups and companies. And I hear the same lament.

“Our marketing doesn’t work.” And I ask: “Why don’t you hire a marketing consultant to help you?” They say: “It’s too expensive.”

The result is that many startups and companies do no marketing or poor marketing and lack a budget to pay for professional marketing help.

It’s like the complaints of a group of sick persons. “Why don’t you get a doctor?” “But we can’t afford a doctor!” I say: “Why don’t you try Doctors without Borders.”

Let’s look at the story of Doctors without Borders before we talk about Marketers without Borders. Here is an abbreviated sketch drawn from their account of their history.

In May 1968, a group of young doctors decided to go and help victims of wars and major disasters. This new brand of humanitarianism would reinvent the concept of emergency aid. They were to become Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), known internationally in English as Doctors Without Borders.

French TV was broadcasting scenes of children dying from hunger in remote corners of the world. In southern Nigeria, the province of Biafra was surrounded by the Nigerian army and the Biafran people were decimated by famine. The French Red Cross issued an appeal for volunteers.

For a number of years, Max Recamier and Pascal Greletty-Bosviel — volunteer doctors with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva — had been regularly intervening in armed conflicts.

A team of six set off to Biafra: two doctors — Max Recamier and Bernard Kouchner — as well as two clinicians and two nurses. These fledgling doctors found themselves having to provide war surgery in hospitals that were regularly targeted by the Nigerian armed forces.

In the following three years, other doctors began to speak up. These doctors, or “Biafrans,” as they were known, began to lay the foundations for a new and questioning form of humanitarianism that would ignore political or religious boundaries, and prioritize the welfare of those suffering.

In 1971, Raymond Borel and Philippe Bernier, journalists from the medical review Tonus, issued an appeal to establish a band of doctors to help people suffering in the midst and wake of major disasters.

MSF was officially created on December 22, 1971. At the time, 300 volunteers made up the organization: doctors, nurses, and other staff, including the 13 founding doctors and journalists.

Doctors without Borders responded in 1972 to the earthquake in Nicaragua that killed 10,000–30,000 people. They responded in 1974 in Honduras after Hurricane Fifi caused major flooding and killed thousands of people.

It became readily apparent that preparation was lacking, doctors were left unsupported, and supply chains were tangled. Some doctors wanted to stay a small commando unit of emergency doctors — and others who wanted to get organized.”

In 1979, a vote was made on whether MSF should become more organized or remain a band of guerilla doctors. Eighty percent voted in favor of the former. From this point, the new “realist” leadership of MSF would help transform MSF into the professional organization it is today.

Since 1980, MSF has opened offices in 28 countries and employs more than 30,000 people across the world. Since its founding, MSF has treated over a hundred million patients. MSF maintained its institutional and financial independence offering effective and timely medical to those who need it most.

Marketers without Borders

Marketers without Borders (MWB) would need to develop its own history and purpose. It starts with the idea that many startups and companies are dissatisfied with their marketing efforts and need help. They don’t know where to get it and they can’t afford it. To respond, we recognize that there are many professional and experienced marketers along with many academic marketers who might volunteer their time to look at tough company marketing problems and suggest remedies. Each volunteer would list his or her specialties and experiences.

Marketers without Borders would initially be tested in a small American city. Suppose the city is Sarasota, Florida, population 60,000. The city has some industrial companies, many restaurants, and several cultural organizations (theaters, museums, orchestra, ballet). The following announcement is prepared and circulated in Sarasota, Florida.



Each caller is told that everything will be confidential. The MWB agent asked the calling organization to briefly describe its business, marketing system and strategy, along with marketing questions that the caller has. The MWB agent tells the caller that an appropriate volunteer will be identified and that person will call the caller and arrange for further discussion or a meeting.

If the caller is satisfied to work with the volunteer, the caller signs a statement that this caller’s company takes full responsibility for whatever it decides to do with the MWB’s advice, with no liability attached to the volunteer or MWB. The MWB volunteer signs a statement that he or she will hold confidential all facts about the company.

At the end of each engagement, the MWB volunteer writes up the major findings and advice without identifying the specific company. This goes into a case file that volunteers can look at for new ideas.

If the engagement leads to positive results, the caller company might want to show its appreciation to the volunteer or MWB itself. This is up to the parties themselves. The caller company might make an appreciation payment to the MWB volunteer and even ask the volunteer to give further advice on a paid basis. The calling company might make a donation to MWB to help MWB grow and cover its expenses.

If the results are positive in Sarasota, Florida, this means that Sarasota’s organizations have become better marketing performers and that Sarasota has experienced economic growth and improved livelihoods.

Now it is time for MWB to expand to other cities and learn more on attracting client companies, in attracting excellent volunteer marketers, and in raising money to expand abroad. If MWB is successful, one could imagine MWB branches all over the world. If more companies around the world learn how to use marketing more effectively, marketing will perform as a positive change agent and a force in global economic growth.

Issues to be Resolved

The first issue is that existing paid marketing consultants will oppose to this new disruptive competition. They might get legislators to rule against using unlicensed volunteer marketing advisors. They might publicize cases of poor marketing advice coming from MWB volunteers. The same happened early in Doctors Without Borders with the charge that some poorly trained doctors were doing more harm than good. This means that MWB must be careful in their choice of marketing volunteers to match to company situations.

The second issue is how centralized or decentralized MWB should be. If MWB is highly centralized in setting standards, raising money and choosing volunteers, this will protect its reputation better. If MWB is highly decentralized, then each branch is fairly free to set up its own standards and some shady practices might take place in certain locations.

The third issue: “What is good marketing advice?” Three experienced marketers might look at the same client situation and end up giving three different judgments of what the client should do. If the three marketers then compared and discussed their ideas, they might come to agree on the best advice. But MWB is not set up to send three volunteers to work with the client. Overtime, MWB will get an idea about which volunteers are creating the most value for their clients. And overtime, MWB might run classes for marketing volunteers on the most recent developments in marketing and a review of recent cases that were successfully carried out.

The fourth issue is to fold Marketers without Borders into ( The Small Business Administration-supported SCORE program (originally Service Core of Retired Executives) has done something similar for decades. It offers to small businesses mentors, online workshops and webinars, and a library full of guides, videos, and checklists on everything from startup strategies to marketing and finance, all at almost no cost. SCORE boasts some 250 local offices and a network of 10,000 volunteers. SCORE over the years has had mixed experiences — sometimes great; sometimes not — depending on the mentor assigned. Should Marketers without Borders be folded into SCORE?


At this time, Marketers without Borders does not exist. It is just an idea that might contribute to raising marketing’s profile and positive impact on the performance of startups and existing companies. To get it further developed, I would be happy to receive written comments to improve the idea. With luck, I will also hear from a few marketers who would like to take over the idea, set up MWB, and move it through a number of cities, learning along the way, and launching MWB more visibly around the world.



Philip Kotler

Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson and Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University (emeritus)