The ability to carve a vision for an industry to listen to and to follow can only come from the most eclectic of backgrounds. For Tony Treadway, his unique experiences have given him a truly unmatched perspective.
Treadway’s career started as the manager within a nuclear defense contractor during the Cold War with the then Soviet Union. With the fall of the Berlin Wall the contractor would see mass layoffs of its employees where Treadway had built a communications staff. Instead, Treadway opted to form his own ad agency with his staff that would be known as Creative Energy in honor of its nuclear heritage. That was in 1991. Today, the agency has powered its way to become one of our nation’s largest and most respected foodservice industry marketing and advertising agencies in the country.
The Creative Energy difference is the molding of a portfolio of brands that enables the company to sit on both sides of the buyer and seller equation. Included in Creative Energy’s stable of brands are a restaurant chain, food and beverage manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, and other supplier brands. “It gives us the ability to understand what both the buyer and seller need to do to accomplish their goals,” Treadway explained.
One of the agency’s first accounts was Pal’s Sudden Service. The Kingsport, TN restaurant chain of 30 units has collaborated with Creative Energy for 29 years to build an award-winning brand. Pal’s is a fast-food icon and first restaurant chain to earn the prestigious Baldrige National Quality Award in 2001. “We kept it very simple from the start in terms of messaging,” Treadway explained. “The goal was to use radio to reach the target customers when they were in the car and then have a series of billboards support that message from several miles out right to the turn into the restaurant.”
From there it was up to the innovative leadership of Thom Crosby of Pal’s to create a unique customer experience. With drive-thru wait times of less than 30 seconds, to its order accuracy and high health stores, the brand’s cult-like following is driven by its operational excellence at every unit.
“One of the keys to our success and maintaining long-term client relationships like the one we have with Pal’s has been that I want to know how sales are doing when I speak with our clients,” Treadway noted. “It doesn’t matter how beautiful our creative is unless we can help our clients consistently grow their businesses.”
To drive sales growth, Creative Energy’s strategy is to help its clients achieve cult brand status. “There’s a very simple definition for it: achieving cult status means higher profit margins and assuring repeat purchase behaviors at a significantly lower cost than new customer acquisition,” Treadway explained. This is not easy to accomplish because only one or two brands within any category will ever achieve cult brand love. Cult brands are courageous and fun because consumers want to associate their own beliefs and psyche around a group of like-minded believers who share the fundamental human need for belonging. Beyond a product or service, cult brands sell a lifestyle as brand lovers who want to be part of the brand’s tribe.
“Our goal has always been to help our clients understand the potential rewards of being a cult brand,” the veteran marketing executive continued. “With just a 5% increase in brand loyalty our clients can nearly double their company’s profitability because you can reduce your new customer acquisition costs.”
In addition, to building cult brand loyalty through marketing and advertising for its clients, Creative Energy has continually made the same commitment to its local community.
With East Tennessee quickly becoming the epicenter for COVID-19 spread, there was no time to ask nicely for locals to do their part. Creative Energy designed a pro-bono campaign to convince those not wearing masks to change their behavior and change it now. Inspired by dramatic testimonials from real, front-line caregivers, the agency created an award-winning campaign that recently received an award from the Northeast Tennessee chapter of the American Advertising Federation (AAF). In addition, Creative Energy was recognized for the association’s Top award for a 30-second television commercial. The “Full of Magic” spot on behalf of Pal’s Sudden Service shared a new message of whimsy and fun around one of the restaurant’s most beloved menu items: Cheddar Rounds.
“It is interesting to look back from that frightful day last March 2020, when we rallied our employees in our lobby and send them home to work remotely during the pandemic to where we are today. Our employees never lost sight of our mission to use our insights to bring brands to life through ideas that serve a greater purpose. That is why we invested in our own community to save lives and grow business for new and established clients,” Treadway noted.
For Tony Treadway, the Pandemic has brought vindication of his commitment to the belief that the building of a cult brand can endure doing the most challenging of times. “It’s interesting that every one of our clients with the exception of one, continued with the execution of the branding that we designed with them. They have come to trust our instincts.
In many cases, Creative Energy’s value to each of these brands grew even more over the past year. They needed to “pivot to new opportunities” and the Tennessee-based agency made it possible. “We have a tomato company that needed to educate foodservice operators on the many different menu applications for its tomato sauces as they trimmed back their menus for Takeout & Delivery during the Pandemic. “We worked with them to show how adaptable their tomato sauces could be as part of an omelet in the morning to a sauce for a dinner entrée or on late night loaded fries.” For another client, the opportunity was in portion control packets of hot sauce needed for Takeout & Delivery.
With funding from the American Rescue Plan Act on the horizon, Treadway envisions the value of cult brands growing in significance. “Let’s consider something as simple as a wobbly table. Rather than seeking a temporary solution for the table, the operator will now be able to invest in a value-added table that maximizes the customer experience and eliminates the cost of employee distraction of attempting to fix the problem on the fly. Our goal is to help our client explain to the restaurant operator that the investment in a quality table may even add an additional table turn for a restaurant,” Treadway noted.
Treadway and his Creative Energy team see an essential element into achieving their goal of cult brand status for the restaurant and foodservice professional as being dependent on an on-going commitment to hospitality. “Look at the landscape today of banks and car dealers reconfiguring their operating models from welcoming a customer into their facility to a faceless computer transaction. Treadway concluded: “The beauty of foodservice is that the owner or bartender greets you by name and knows your favorite dish or cocktail. That’s the essence of building a cult brand and the true definition of hospitality.”
To learn more about Creative Energy, visit their website.