When Joe Erwin first began his advertising career in New York, the Clemson brand was still up and coming. He laughingly recalls having one of his training instructors refer to Clemson as “that Southern liberal arts school” in a room full of his Ivy League colleagues.
Clemson has come a long way since Joe Erwin graduated in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and began working in advertising. He met Gretchen, an alumna of the University of Georgia, while they were working at Leslie Advertising in Greenville. After getting married and moving to New York to work for major advertising agencies, the couple returned to Greenville to launch their own advertising agency, Erwin Penland. Erwin Penland grew to be a national company with more than 400 employees and a prestigious client base across the country.
After transitioning away from Erwin Penland, Joe Erwin founded Erwin Creates, a company that continues his legacy of cultivating, growing and influencing a creative community in South Carolina. Through Erwin Creates, the Erwins created the Erwin Center for Brand Communications at Clemson in 2012.
The Erwin Center prepares Clemson students for the workplace by providing them opportunities to put their classroom skills into practice. They learn from marketing professionals who can provide real examples, and they address actual client needs that require them to utilize research, strategy, creative development and analytics to produce meaningful solutions.
The Erwins’ most recent gift makes them Clemson’s second Cornerstone Partner for Academics, placing them in a special group of bold and visionary donors who give transformational gifts of $2.5 million or more to lay a foundation for Clemson’s future. This gift includes $1 million for the new College of Business building and $1.5 million for student scholarships and programming support for communication students and adjunct faculty.
“That investment that we made and continue to make is about changing lives, and what we’ve seen in the last five years is that our investment has paid dividends at Clemson,” Joe Erwin said. “We’ve seen young people go on to great jobs right out of Clemson, working at agencies and brands that, when I was a kid, I don’t think we could have imagined.”
“Because of our great adjunct faculty and other faculty, they’re getting the kind of professional training that really makes them a hot commodity,” he continued, “and I love seeing Clemson people being hot commodities.”