There is nothing small about the big ideas from Creative Energy, an ad agency focused on foodservice brands. Yet the industry’s leading authority on ad firms, Ad Age, awarded this Tennessee shop one of its highest honors as Small Agency of the Year for the Southeast. 

“Big ideas from a smaller, independent agency is what many brands look for today,” says Creative Energy’s co-founder and President, Tony Treadway. “I think we earned the Ad Age designation as the best small agency in the Southeast because we are smart and nimble with brand strategies that grow customer loyalty and market share.”

Creative Energy is unique in its understanding of the foodservice business from the perspective of regional and emerging restaurant chains and food manufacturers. Founded in 1992, the full-service agency has grown powerhouse brands, including Pal’s Sudden Service, a 29-unit fast food chain with locations in Tennessee and Virginia and Texas Pete® Hot Sauce for Garner Foods.

Pal’s outperforms major national chains in key metrics, including customer loyalty and speed of service and was the first restaurant chain to earn the Baldridge National Quality Award. “Our 27-year longevity as the agency of record for the Pal’s brand speaks to the effectiveness of our trusted relationship in growing the company’s sales by delighting consumers with our messaging,” says Treadway. For example, the agency has never advertised price as the reason for visiting a Pal’s location.

On the food manufacturer’s side, Creative Energy has maintained decades-long relationships by making food brands relevant to the needs of foodservice operators. “For some brands, we’re not only helping with brand strategies and messaging but assisting them with their business strategies to find new opportunities and emerging segments,” says Treadway.

The agency recently doubled down on its own growth by acquiring a digital agency to stay ahead of the constantly changing environment of online delivery, omnichannel marketing and social media. The firm has likewise invested in in-house video production capabilities, important for content for traditional or social media.

The agency is located in a small east Tennessee city of 70,000 which is a benefit to its clients. “Talented professionals in big agencies are looking for a different lifestyle and the ideal work/life balance, says co-founder and Media VP Teresa Treadway. “We are frequently asked ‘why Johnson City’ for the location of a vibrant full-service agency with a national client roster. My answer is always the same; come here and see why. Creativity comes easy in a city best known for outdoor beauty and slower paced lifestyle.”


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