An Interview with Claudia Martin, Partner/Chairman, Media Director at Redstone Communications
By Jeff Parris and Kathleen Overholt, Creighton University MBA students
Tell us a little about your background, where were you raised, education and career?
I was born and raised in Nebraska and consider myself a farm girl. I grew up on a farm near Washington, NE which is close to Blair, NE. KMTV was my first job out of high school. At the time, there wasn’t any education for what I did, so I was a true learn on the job type of person. TV was still a new industry. My very first job at KMTV was typing the log, which told master control which programs and commercials to air. I typed the log on a clunker typewriter, not electric, and then checked a box to signify whether the commercial was in black/white or color. I have worked in media ever since. I have been at Redstone for 24 years, and as of this year, it is my 32nd year that I have been working with Nebraska Furniture Mart. If anything, I was raised at the knee of the Blumkins.
What do you like most about your work? What is the least?
What I like most about media is that it is always on the cutting edge of culture. I know the current hot TV shows and I often know what is going to happen before the general public because we receive industry newsletters almost every day. Probably the least favorite aspect of the job is the hours, but I must admit they are mostly self-inflicted.
Can you define ethics and tell us what ethics mean to you?
I define ethics somewhat as “being in love,” because I can’t describe it but I know how it feels!
Do you know how it feels when it is right or how it feels when it is wrong?
You know you are in love because you know how it feels, and you know about good ethics because it just feels good.
Do you think there is a difference between ethics in general (personal) and ethics in business?
I really don’t think there is a difference, I feel right is right and wrong is wrong. The issues will change, but not the ethics.
Is there a formal ethics program at Redstone? Who started it?
Not really a formal program. Redstone is a small firm of 26 people so it would be difficult to do something formal.
I got involved in the Business Ethics Alliance when I was invited to an event. I fell in love with Dr. Beverly Kracher. Almost as a lemming to the sea, I would follow Dr. Bev almost anywhere! We have become good friends. I was invited to be on the Business Ethics Alliance (BEA) and then the BEA needed some marketing materials so we recruited Steve Armbruster (my partner) to be that person. He then became involved in the BEA. Next the BEA came out with the Toolbox Program. This program offered six different sessions and taught people how to start a program at their organization. Since there were six partners at Redstone we all decided to participate in one of the sessions. We wanted everyone to have exposure to the program. After that, everyone at Redstone became involved in the process.
What were some of the challenges along the way? Was it hard to get started or were employees hesitant?
It wasn’t hard to get started. In the beginning employees didn’t really know why we needed an ethics program, but they all thought it was a good idea. We hadn’t had any issues at Redstone, so if there was any resistance at all, it was because people would ask -- if there aren’t any issues, why we need to have a program?
Can you talk about the culture at your company?
Very simple, we do not tolerate un-ethical behavior at Redstone.
Has your business always been in the Omaha area? If not, where else have you done business?
Our primary business has always been in Omaha, but we do work with businesses in many other markets. We create and place advertising for clients in Kansas City, Des Moines and all around the Midwest region. And we are starting to work in the Dallas market because Nebraska Furniture Mart is building a store in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The Ethical Omaha Project of the Business Ethics Alliance has identified the Omaha business core values to be the following: Accountability, Community Responsibility, Financial Vitality, Integrity and Moral Courage.
How do these fit into your organization?
We very much practice accountability and transparency with our clients. I feel that Redstone does a great job with support of the community; we are involved in several community pro-bono activities. Redstone believes in giving back to our community.
I have been a partner at Redstone since we bought our company from the Omaha World Herald, World Marketing Group about 12 years ago. I am very happy to say we have had 12 consecutive profitable years. I am very proud of our Integrity Award from the BBB. I do not feel I have yet had to show true moral courage, because only because I have been fortunate enough not to have been faced a great moral dilemma.
Describe an ethical situation in business that was relatively easy to face.
The easy ones to handle are the easy ones to remember. One situation occurred when we let someone go from Redstone. That person then goes down the street to apply for another job. Redstone will get a call from that company asking about the person. We all know there are things you can say and things that you can’t, but I am always relieved when they ask the question, “Is that person eligible for rehire?”
A second situation occasionally happens because we place media which involves buying radio and television time. After we buy the time, radio and television stations will send back a confirmation outlining the rate, placement times and all of the details about the purchase. It has happened that we get a confirmation that was meant for another company. We always immediately call the radio or television station and tell them we are shredding the confirmation.
Describe an ethical situation in business that was hard to face.
The situations that are hard to handle are not that much harder than those in the last question.. If you will remember, I have worked with Nebraska Furniture Mart for the last 32 years. So I have learned to follow the mantra of Mrs. B, “she would sell cheap and tell the truth”. This is something that will always be practiced at NFM and it reminds me of the Golden Rule, if you practice do those two things, you will succeed.
How does it feel to talk about the ethical quandaries you have faced?
Nothing about ethical quandaries is easy, but it is not uncomfortable either.
Are there unethical behaviors that give other companies and/or business people a competitive advantage?
There are unethical behaviors that could provide other companies a competitive advantage, because it is pretty easy to oversell capabilities especially in advertising companies. For instance, an agency will pitch a client, and the agency will provide a reel of maybe 15 commercials, but 10 of those commercials might have been made by people that don’t even work for the organization anymore. Redstone tries to be extremely careful to show work to prospective clients that represents the people that are currently working for Redstone. When presenting a piece of material, we might say this person was the art director, this was the producer, this was the copywriter; now the copywriter doesn’t work here anymore, but the other two people still do. That honesty is very important when presenting material.
Have you had any ethical mentors?
Yes and from my very beginning. My parents were definitely ethical mentors for me. My father had a debt that was owed to him. He had baled hay for a neighbor and this neighbor never paid him. This unpaid debt went on for a couple of years, and my mother would suggest they send him another bill. My father would just say, “He knows he owes me; that is enough”. Some of my employers have been great ethical mentors and excellent role models. I always mention the Blumkin family from NFM. I feel they are my best professional role models since I have been in the agency business.
Do you see a connection between your upbringing and how you handle ethical situations at work?
Absolutely there is a connection between my upbringing and how I handle ethical situations at work. Ethics is ingrained in us as small children. It is what we learn on the playground, we learn it in kindergarten and in the culture around us. It is not just a switch that was turned on when we started college or got a job!
As you move up in an organization, how have ethics played a role in decision making?
We just live it every day and if you live it every day, it will be with you as you make all of your decisions and as you make moves up in your organization.
How does it feel to be a Business Ethics Alliance Trustee?
It is awesome, I am in great company. I marvel at the meetings I attend because I am sitting next to many wonderful people from the largest companies in Omaha. I marvel because these are very large companies and I am from a small firm of 26 people. I appreciate the importance that the Business Ethics Alliance places on small business. They understand the role that small businesses play in the Omaha business community. There is a great balance of large and small business, arts, pro-bono and all those businesses are represented in this alliance.
What are some of the biggest ethical challenges that face young business professionals today?
I feel the evolution of the online world might be one of the biggest ethical challenges that young business professionals face today. Social media can create many ethical situations when it comes to employees and their employers. This could be in how they represent themselves and represent their employers, through their online views, thoughts and associations. Where do we draw the line between personal and professional?