As the elevator opens at Endeavor and you approach what’s called the Flight Deck, strap in for an exhilarating ride. In a mash-up of Friends meets Mad Men, creative-service professionals are brainstorming in vibrant communal areas filled with high-top tables, comfortable couches, and monitors streaming news of the minute. “Greenville has really become an enclave for creatives regionally and is getting national love,” explains long-time pitchman Joe Erwin. “People in advertising and marketing disciplines are recognizing Greenville really is a leader.”
“Back in the day, I wouldn’t have been involved in something where we saw other agencies. But people have realized that sometimes collaboration trumps competition. And if we collaborate, maybe we both win, and that’s what we’re seeing here.”
Piloting Endeavor, Erwin guides more than 125 people in this collaborative-space mission, using strategies he deployed across 29 years at his namesake advertising company, Erwin Penland. “I loved my job at E.P.,” shares the 60-year-old innovator. “But I was ready for a new challenge. I thought if I don’t do something else now when I’m young enough, and vigorous enough, and have a passion to do something new, I never will”—an idea to unite Erwin Penland alums with videographers, bloggers, and branders working out of Starbucks and other out-of-the-way places. Once he toured the deserted Certus Bank executive suites at ONE North Main, his lasers locked on target. He kept some of the opulent touches—a penny-covered ceiling, gourmet kitchen, and fully-loaded gym—and created open workstations perfect for imaginations to ignite. In a nod to his childhood love of space exploration, he named this quest for creative camaraderie Endeavor.
“We want to help drive the creative process and be champions for it,” Erwin says. “Just like NEXT is an economic accelerator, and Iron Yard for coding, we’re kind of similar. We’re here to help each of our Endeavor members grow to another level.”
No matter the journey, uber-networking has always served as Joe Erwin’s tarmac, his homebase touchpoint. First as student-body president at Eastside High and later as the head cheerleader at Clemson University. Personally, and professionally, he’s learned to identify, harness, and sell the spirit of people and their passions, sometimes even coupling competitors together for success. Endeavor’s manifest includes companies that could easily battle while bidding. “I think the world’s changed,” Erwin says, pondering this new landscape. “Back in the day, I wouldn’t have been involved in something where we saw other agencies. But people have realized that sometimes collaboration trumps competition. And if we collaborate, maybe we both win, and that’s what we’re seeing here.”
Rocket Man // Joe Erwin, who started in the mailroom at Leslie Advertising in Greenville, shot up to found the mega marketing agency Erwin Penland. After 40 years in advertising, he now leads Endeavor, a community of creative professionals.
One of the most exhausting, yet rewarding, efforts to make connections in his life was serving as South Carolina’s Democratic Party chairman across much of the 2000s. During his tenure, the Palmetto State captured worldwide attention with televised primary debates and set then-Senator Barack Obama, who lost New Hampshire, on course to win the White House.
Today, public education sits on his volunteer radar. To strengthen his alma mater, almost half of his free time is spent at the Erwin Center for Brand Communications at Clemson University. The four-year-old center is adding one new course a semester, and producing graduates who are now finding marketing and advertising jobs in New York and Los Angeles.
“I do feel a sense of responsibility,” he reflects. “I remember the people who were good to me, like Bill Leslie and Jim Henderson, and I consider it a responsibility to do some of what those guys did, because they were trailblazers. They helped a lot of young people with careers in advertising.” After building a powerhouse agency, and now a creative collaborative community for hundreds, the adman’s legacy is soaring. He admits, “I feel so blessed and lucky for all the years at Erwin Penland. So now, for me, to help all these folks feels so good. It feels like home.”
Learn more about Endeavor or apply to join at endeavorgreenville.com