Big News! We won Ad Age Small Agency of the Year.

December 17, 2020

Goodbye, 2020. Hello, 2021!

Tony Treadway

2020 year end review article.

The Extraordinary Path of a 28-Year-Old Agency

How do you get your mind around what just happened? No one knew what we were stepping into back in January, and we’re not certain of the outcome that hopefully will emerge in ’21. We’re still here and are encouraged by our prospects.

A quick rewind to 1992 finds the spark of Creative Energy in the back of a converted steak house restaurant in Erwin, TN. We were leaving the comfort of a corporate environment as a marketing and public relations department of a company that makes fuel for nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers to battle the Soviets (thus the “Energy” in the name of our agency). The Cold War is over and forming an ad agency was the risky alternative to mass layoffs of a team of talented people. We had enough money to last just three months with one client. Now that is risky behavior.

Tony and Teresa Treadway
Pictured: Tony Treadway and Teresa Treadway, co-founders of Creative Energy

Risky behavior is what we grew up on. I frequently say, “We eat stress for breakfast, and wash it down with steaming hot urgency.” That drive saw us carve out a national reputation for building cult brands that earned us Ad Age magazine’s Southeast Small Ad Agency of the Year in 2019. As news of a flu-like virus becoming a threat in January, we, like most of us, felt it would be a minor distraction to a booming economy that we all knew and loved dearly.

By March 13th, I called our 39 employees together inside our 15,000 square feet of working space to say the spread of a pandemic meant we would be offering the flexibility of working from home. This was one of the most important milestones in our agency’s history. My belief was that one-on-one collaboration was a critical reason for great creative. Telling our teams of brand executives and creatives to take their computers and go home left me with the first “punch in the gut feeling” about the future of our agency in a long, long time. Then, something amazing happened.

I had underestimated the strength of great talent who was still dedicated to our culture of hard work and great creative. Within a week, we had organized our workflow via virtual platforms that maintained interaction while making us more efficient than before! Some of us chose to continue to work from our office but most were at home with dogs, cats and sometimes babies interrupting important agency and client meetings. But this was happening everywhere in corporate America.

TriKindness campaign to encourage kindness and respect during COVID outbreak.
Local Business Recovery Fund to support small businesses during quarantine.

Along the way, we pitched in to help our community with three important initiatives to combat the pandemic. Our TRIKindness campaign was from a spark of addressing early pandemic fear and frustration of this new great unknown that gripped the country. The message was to replace that fear with a strength to demonstrate compassion for healthcare workers, those less advantaged, your family and even yourselves.

That campaign was launched in 13 days from its conception to its launch as a public service campaign in our region. It drew the attention of another organization out to bring the region of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia closer together around important causes. We agreed to drive a new campaign to raise funds for small businesses in the region that would likely not receive PPP fund from the government. We worked with competitor agencies in implementing the plan that raised $255,000 that helped keep the lights on in struggling businesses hit by COVID.

Creative Energy helped raise funds to support and stabilize local small businesses impacted by the COVID pandemic and safety regulations.
Creative Energy helped raise funds to support and stabilize local small businesses impacted by the COVID pandemic and safety regulations.

Creative Energy helped scores of local businesses survive through this pro bono campaign.

In December, when COVID deaths in the region made news in The New York Times, we were asked to build a third public service campaign encouraging compliance of safety standards.

We did all of this because we are much more than an ad agency. We’re a force within our community. For employment of local talent that we don’t want to go elsewhere. We are also a force for positively positioning a region with a lot of promise for next generation, success in the heart of Appalachia.

What About Client Work?

The pandemic brought us new clients and existing ones who needed our help in pivoting their business because of COVID. Only one client went dark due to indecision on a path forward. The rest of our clients pushed ahead with the knowledge that brands grow market share when others go dark. The philosophy worked. Several clients grew their market share and recorded record sales and profit.

We landed two number one brands within their categories and formed alliances with other companies to go after as new clients in ’21. As we say goodbye to 2020, our greatest blessing was clients who stayed the course and kept the lights on at Creative Energy. Their faith and our creative helped us make it through the year without a single layoff. Thank you.

Our work was exceptional, racking up major sales gains and brand awareness for clients ranging from food, financial, healthcare, tourism and more.

“If It Doesn’t Kill You, It Makes Your Stronger.”

Creative Energy virtual Christmas Party.
 ‘Mother Teresa’ was the force that helped bind our team together in 2020. Just one example was her virtual “Let’s Make A Deal” contest during our employee Christmas Party.

That sums up 2020. We’re stronger because we never gave up. We strengthened the process of creating brilliance albeit in a virtual environment. We helped many in need pro bono while earning new clients who believed in us. We made the sales needle move in a positive direction despite a historic pandemic. We love what we do and in being able to persevere as a family of professionals. Together, we made Creative Energy stronger and proved that risk won’t deter the energy that is our brand. Hello, 2021.