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Listening, learning and letting go

Ann Martin and Sherma Jones know what it is like to invest in a community, to harvest talent, and to create unique brands and effective messages for their clients. As the owners of IdeaBank located in Hastings, Nebraska, these two women have forged great opportunities for local businesses as one of the leading marketing firms in central Nebraska.

Open for Business is pleased to present IdeaBank Marketing as the Entrepreneur Extraordinaire for September/October 2014. Martin and Jones have built a team that has created marketing campaigns for a wide variety of businesses in central Nebraska from Hornady® to the Community Hospital in McCook to the City of Hastings.


IdeaBank Marketing began in the summer of 1982 as Portwood Martin. Ann Martin partnered with Bob Portwood to launch a marketing agency that focused on retail opportunities. The two met and worked together in the advertising and marketing department for the J.M. McDonald Co., a chain of retail department stores.

In their roles, they both recognized the lack of marketing agencies in central Nebraska and decided to launch Portwood & Martin, a venture that offered marketing services to a variety of different businesses.

Sherma Jones joined the team as the Art Director after being vetted by Portwood who met her at a meeting of the former Mid-Nebraska Advertising Federation. A few years later, Jones joined as one of the owners of the agency. During this time, Portwood began to phase himself out of the business in preparation for retirement. In 1997, the company changed their name from Portwood Martin and Jones to IdeaBank Marketing and expanded operations by purchasing a historic bank building in downtown Hastings. This gave them more visibility with clients and a foundation in the community.


The business has been challenged in many ways: over the years as competition has increased and the development of technology has presented many choices and opportunities for consumers.

Technology has also raised the bar in terms of services offered by marketing agencies.

IdeaBank Marketing has grown with these expectations by adding video services as well as website development. However, Jones and Martin agree that these factors have contributed to improvement and becoming more competitive, so they see it as a positive reality in their business.


Both Martin and Jones are leaders in their communities. Jones attributes this to her philosophy of value transferal.

“I’m not going to transfer values to someone else, a vendor, an employee or anyone, that I don’t hold myself to,” she said.

Jones also believes that having a partner has been very beneficial. It has given her the opportunity to get good, sound advice and the support she needs when making tough decisions. She explains that having a positive attitude has also led to her success as a leader.

When discussing leadership, Martin says, “As entrepreneurs, we are very much ‘do-it-yourselfers.’ All entrepreneurs need to overcome the sense that you have to do it all. Nor should you do it all. I think a lot of leadership is leaving that ego behind and turning to your employees, accountants or whoever else you turn to that makes your business hum, and let them grow and take on responsibilities and let them make mistakes… let employees use their talents and expand.”

The partners agree that a continuous process for improvement is very important. Leaders have to strive to improve in whatever role they find themselves.

“Leaders blend compassion with the ability to make hard decisions. It is particularly hard for women. We tend to be nurturing and we want everyone to be happy. But sometimes you have to make some hard decisions,” Martin said.


The owners of IdeaBank Marketing are very happy with the progression and success of the business. They are passionate about what they have done and there have been surprises along the way. Jones said she has been amazed with the longevity of the company and how both partners have stayed the course and been dedicated to the business.

Martin said that she has always been creative and artistic, and has been surprised by her interest to the more structured side of the business, such as putting together media plans, presenting to clients and professional groups, and working with the numbers. She has honed these skills and has become very good at this side of running a business.

They both like the varied opportunities IdeaBank Marketing has offered them professionally. Every day changes. They are able to deal with different segments of their business, a wide variety of clients, and varied projects on a daily basis.

IdeaBank has gradually grown over the years. Since Jones' introduction into the business, they have expanded from five employees to fourteen and stayed around that number for the past decade. They have been fairly conservative when it comes to growing the team.

When the workload demands it, often they will hold back and work through the spike. They have to identify the times when the spike continues and becomes a pattern, and in turn, grow their team. An approach that has worked well for them is to allow for crossover and multi-functional employees.

They may hire a person for a specific position, but if an employee brings additional talents and skills to the business, they don’t confine them to only that role. They allow them to develop their strengths and often that helps the business become more diverse. They continually involve the team when it comes to evaluation and focus.

IdeaBank Marketing is a marketing agency, but they also consider themselves a “relationship” agency. They have the ability to work in a wide range of business sectors, but they focus on manufacturing, healthcare, school districts, non-profits and financial institutions.

They have partnered with vendors and suppliers who are very reliable, produce quality products, and offer high-caliber services because they are experts in their fields. These partnerships have been essential to IdeaBank’s success.

They have kept their image fresh by constantly communicating with clients through newsletters, emails, speaking engagements, networking and community involvement of all employees. They have added to the success of other businesses over the last thirty years and created marketing collateral that has passed along these objectives.

Since their beginning, IdeaBank Marketing has worked with over 600 businesses, organizations and causes. When they begin a client relationship, specifically a small business, they assist with building the core marketing tools; website, advertising and public relations.

They also require their clients to commit to consistency as they feel this is a key factor to the success of all marketing efforts. They open themselves up to learning about a client’s industry by listening to them and doing the necessary research.

When interviewing Ann Martin and Sherma Jones, I was inspired as a business owner. I appreciated these two entrepreneurs who took the opportunity to compliment each other and acknowledge the specific elements each of them bring to the team, their clients and the overall business. Ann expressed her admiration for Sherma’s ability to brainstorm and bring together groups of people who are excited, and to see a vision all the way through to implementation. Sherma conveyed that Ann is a good leader because she allows people to color outside of the lines, be creative, try new adventures, and take on additional responsibilities that spark their interest.

IdeaBank Marketing has been the change-agent for many entrepreneurs in central Nebraska. They have built nationally recognized brands and been a part of the economic landscape for many companies who have grown and made a mark in this area. They pride themselves on having a good reputation in the marketing industry and helping clients realize their marketing goals. Martin and Jones agree the most rewarding parts of the business are being excited to go to work and knowing they to make a difference for clients.

About the Author

Open for Business, Central Nebraska
The Open for Business Staff strives to create the most useful content possible for businesses. Whether it's tips and tools available for owners to work smarter, not harder, a feature story highlighting amazing things happening with a Central Nebraska business or a fun tip here and there, you will find something that helps your business thrive at 


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