Sparking a Miracle Called Creative Energy


Miracles are born by angels, and there have been many who bore the birth of Creative Energy. While modest in the eyes of most, folks who have shared my path must admit that our little ad agency is truly a wonder.

You see, I never aspired to build an ad agency. But while picking tobacco worms from my father’s field of burley at age nine, I realized that I wanted to do something more with my life. I aspired to be a jet fighter pilot, an astronaut, or the next Walter Cronkite. While poor eyesight got in the way of the skies, an early broadcast career set my path toward the world of communications.

My parents were the first angels who lifted my expectations of life to be unlimited. Support in childhood careers selling newspapers and working at a sawmill and as a restaurant curb hop made hard work part of my own expectations.

At age 15, I knocked on the door of the local radio station and a giant of a man became my next angel. I explained that I wanted to be a DJ. His response was that he needed someone to mow the lawn. A few months later he called to say a DJ didn’t show up for work and that he would teach me the art of communication. Jim True instructed me on how to entertain an audience through voice, music, and news.

Fast forward through a couple decades of college, serving as a disco DJ, an intern in the Tennessee House of Representatives, as a sports anchor and then a news anchor at a TV station, and a stint at a nuclear plant and I had all of the tools I needed to do something I never dreamed I would be doing. Founding an ad agency was an unexpected opportunity.

Isn’t it funny how, if you are willing to play in the game of life, you get ready to play with the help of so many angels on your path? Prove along the way that you can do the unimagined, and people start believing that you can do it again.

One of my angels was Mikhail Gorbachev. When he folded the cards of the Soviet Union to end the Cold War, the U.S. Navy canceled its submarine and aircraft carrier contract with Nuclear Fuel Services. The Tennessee plant would go from 2,200 to 300 employees almost overnight. I could remain, but my staff within the communications team of the company would have to go.

An angel by the name of company president, Dwight Ferguson, supported my idea to swim away from the mothership and start an ad agency. So, with enough to meet payroll for three months, we cut the rope and started rowing. I guess few can say their agency roots are in a nuclear plant, but Creative Energy can. The energy in our name is nuclear-powered.

Three weeks in, a random angel by the name of Mike Patterson said, “I don’t know if you want to go to Coeburn, Virginia, but I hear that a Piggly Wiggly franchise is looking for an ad agency.” Say no more. Again, I was knocking on a door, and within a week we had a half-million-dollar client—The Pig!

Soon thereafter, we were blessed by other food-focused clients, an emerging fast food chain, a canner of pimientos, an organ transplant agency, a chain of tire and auto repair stores, a German electronics company, and a willingness to finally pinch myself and say, “We just might make it.” There are so many angels to mention in the early days of our 25-year-old agency. They know who they are. So I will turn to internal angels.

Tony, Teresa, and the rest of the crew in the early days.

The first is my fellow rowboat plank owners. Teresa, my wife, began as our office manager and became the heart and soul of our firm. As mother to our staff, a media buying sensation, and a superb account executive, without Teresa we would not be celebrating a quarter-century. Sam Barnett shared my vision of a full-service agency and is still living the dream alongside me. There have been so many incredible talents who have fueled our little rowboat with energy that rivals U235.

Equal to our talent are many people (clients and partners) who have blessed us. Reg and Glenn Garner and Ann Riddle of TW Garner (the parent company of Texas Pete®). David Halt of Red Gold, Mike Ganey of House-Autry, Bill Greene and Rebecca White at Bank of Tennessee, and Brenda Whitson and Gary Mabrey at the local chamber of commerce, are angels. Thom Crosby and Pal Barger at Pal’s Sudden Service, and Ed Simerly and Stanley Dunbar at Moody-Dunbar are angels. So are Dawn Henning and Mark Kinser at General Shale. Bill May, our digital partner, is an angel. So many angels believing in us and us believing in them—forgive me for not mentioning them all for the sake of brevity. Without their support, we would not be here.

Here is what’s important. What are we here to do with this “Creative Energy”? We are here to create a legacy of talent in the town we choose to call home.

Our firm has taken four abandoned buildings and returned them as assets to the community. We played an early role in returning our downtown to vibrancy. We have helped to build schools and football stadiums that built a belief in miracles through bricks and mortar. We have given more than 100 people through the years the chance to work for world-class companies right here at home. We want Creative Energy employees to feel that we have offered them the best job they ever had in their careers-even when they leave to work elsewhere.

Beautiful Johnson City, TN – home to Creative Energy

In 2010, we were named as one of America’s top small businesses by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. We are recognized as a national ad agency powerhouse in the community in which we choose to live. We are making an impact on positive business results based on our thinking and the artistry in which it is communicated. Through it all, we do not forget to treat people with grace and respect. We thank people for their hard work frequently. What else is there? Oh yes, our yardstick.

Our yardstick was based on what we founded the agency with—a simple, easy-to-remember mission. We would measure our success based on the success of our clients. Our vision was to be a nationally respected ad agency within the fields that we choose to play from right here—not elsewhere. We have achieved those goals because we continue to live that dream thanks to angels who continue to create miracles at Creative Energy. I guess we did something right.

We are truly blessed. Thanks to our employees, our clients, and our angels. Who will be our next?

By Tony Treadway