“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
The quote above inspired me to launch this company in January of 1991. It was a magnet on my refrigerator that I looked at every day.
In 1991, the U.S. was still in a mild recession but a recession nonetheless. Seems an inauspicious time to start a company. I did it anyway. I was pretty much fresh out of school, and my Mom worried about how I was going to pay my bills, to the point of not-so-casually mentioning great new marketing jobs she had seen advertised in the newspaper. I had just bought a new car and moved into a new apartment.
I guess I was almost always doing things backwards. I committed myself to what I call self-UNemployment (because it is self-inflicted), and Providence moved. God’s Providence, in my case, because there’s no other way to explain it.
Morris Creative Group LLC (then Renaissance Design Associates) started with $200 and a big pile of naivete from a 23-year-old who didn’t know what he didn’t know but still believed he could create something. Luckily, a fantastic group of people over 30 years have made it what it is today and continue to. Our amazing hometown of Knoxville has made it what it is, too. So, firstly, I want to thank each and every staffer and intern who has ever been a part of our company, and I want to thank every client we’ve ever had the privilege to serve, and I want to thank our hometown. Thank you! More on that later.
I’m feeling nostalgic. On January 1, 2021, it quietly became our firm’s 30th year, with not much fanfare at all. In fact, I kind of forgot. I was sitting in my friends Scott and Kelley Walton’s living room by a fire watching football, nodding off, and nursing a headache from too much wine with dinner the night before. I’m truly scratching my balding gray head about how this happened – the anniversary, not the headache. How in the world are we now in our 30th year, and during a global pandemic, no less?
It all started with design. Graphic design, NOT graphics design (please don’t call it graphics design). I had just left Whittle Communications (Chris Whittle was an unwitting mentor to me, as well as my bosses Steve Hicks, Ruth Ann Hickey, and Bill Rukeyser) to start freelancing as a designer for Darrell Akins and Charlie Tombras at their new PR shop, Akins & Tombras (all of these folks gave me a shot when I was just starting out, and they mentored me. Thanks!). I did logos for new companies and signs for buildings and flyers and brochures and ads. I ran client meetings. I attended trade shows. I volunteered on non-profit boards and sat on chamber committees. It taught me a lot about business.
Then I landed a new sports equipment catalog for a little-known brand called Power Systems (which later became a big brand). Bruno Pauletto, then strength and conditioning coach for the University of Tennessee football program, along with his wife Julie, were the owners. I was overwhelmed. It was a big catalog with lots of photos and detailed product descriptions. And so ME became WE. I hired Timm Jenkins, a brilliant designer who landed in Knoxville from Pittsburgh. My first employee. We were now a company. (Thanks, Julie and Bruno! Thanks, Timm!).
And then we got a new client called Cityview Magazine. John and Nancy Lyle were the owners. They knew we were small but believed in us, and so we got to do all the design and photo shoots and press checks. Another milestone of learning. (Thanks John and Nancy!)
More learning and lessons were to follow, of course, along with 3 recessions, a fire at our offices in the L&N Station (1979 video), a divorce, a flood when a water main broke, then a move to Southeastern Glass Building on Jackson Avenue when the L&N Stem Academy wanted our space for a school. I’m told our old space is the arts area, which seems fitting. 🙂
Fast forward many years, and we have grown to become a full-service marketing agency, not just a design firm. And so, here on our 30th year, we find ourselves still standing, gratefully, in the middle of a global pandemic. I thought long and hard over the holiday about what it means to be 30. What have all these years meant?
For me, the word that kept popping into my mind was “shine.” Shine, as in “shine on,” “be the light,” “shine bright.” Anyone remember the childhood song, “This Little Light of Mine”?
It occurs to me that that’s what we’ve tried to help our clients do all these years. Shine brighter. Be the light. Be the company that makes a difference in the community it serves. We’ve tried to do that ourselves, too.
So, to all of you, a challenge for 2021: Shine On. Persevere. Be the Light. Let Your Light Shine.
I’m counting on you. We all are. We need each other.
The 30-year reunion/anniversary celebration this year may be postponed, but when we’re all out of quarantine, I want to party with my family and friends and clients and staff and “MCG alumni” – you know who you are. Nik Radzi, I’ll buy your plane ticket from Kuala Lumpur. I want to THANK all of YOU face-to-face and give you a big hug. Thank you for being a part of our journey. I am grateful to every one of you, and I salute you, too, as many of you have gone on to start your own companies or make contributions at major agencies all over the world.
And one last thing… to the non-profits in the local area, we want to give back this year as a way to celebrate our anniversary. Please stay tuned for more from us when we announce our “Shine On Awards,” which may just become an annual thing.
With sincere gratitude and humility,
Morris Creative Group “Alumni”
You Know Who You Are (with sincere apologies to any our database missed – PLEASE email us)
Alexis J. Breeding
Jonathan R. Stovall
Kevin L Jones
Khloe P Williams
M. K. (Alexis) Magnotti
Mary Beth Roberts
Matt K. Patteson
Meridith Owens Geiger
Milaray L. Mann
Nizam (Nik) Radzi
Paige N. Burchell
Rachel Elise Allen
Rachel Sbuttoni Schafer
Sarah Marie Ruff
Shannon Marie Drew
Sharon R. Murphree
Sierra Renee Plese
Victoria A Marrone
Dr. Wendy Chambers
William Casey Lawrence
William Nicholas Heim