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“I knew from a young age that if I really wanted something in life, that I’d have to work for it,” he said. “Thankfully, my parents allowed me to explore entrepreneurship at an early age and never let my age restrict me from trying new things.”
By 15, Garitty was working with agencies as a professional photographer, then started consulting for brands after graduating highschool.
“I was the guy that always raised my hand when people needed something done, even if I didn’t know how to do it,” he said.
He recalled a time when he said that he could source packaging from China for a client. For reasons still unknown, the port in China didn’t release the shipment. Instead of taking the loss, he was able to contact FedEx in China and airship the product to his clients on-time. The experience was a turning point in his professional future.
“I didn’t want to just be ‘Owen the Photographer’ anymore. I wanted to build a team and a company for my clients.”
Garitty added that, when you’re on a path that feels right, things fall into place. That optimistic perspective would be put to the ultimate test a year later when he landed in the hospital.
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Owen Garitty is no Mike Tyson in the boxing ring, yet The Baddest Man on the Planet’s famous quote fits Garitty like a glove.
At 21, Garitty started what would become FPW Media. Soon after, a snowboarding accident put his life on pause for over a year.
“I had a mild traumatic brain injury and a severe neck injury,” he explained. “I needed therapy to regain my normal functions, including my cognition. There were times when I would leave my apartment and forget how to get home.”
That experience crystalized what he already knew: life is short and nothing is promised.
“If I wanted to achieve any of my goals, I needed to literally put one foot in front of the other and do it,” he said. “I thought, if I actually get back to normal, I want my agency to be free of ego. I wanted to deliver a level of client service that was more akin to a hospitality company.”
Today, FPW Media is an award-winning organization that has worked with hundreds of clients and received a nod from Adweek as one of the fastest growing companies in 2020. While their talents deliver exceptional results across branding, film media, and merchandising, Garitty admits that there’s one significant problem he has yet to solve.
“As we continue to scale, we’re outstripping our roadmap,” he said. “By the time we write a process, it’s incomplete because we’re constantly adapting and evolving to serve our clients. We’re forced to speculate on the future and wonder what process we need years from now. It’s challenging, but I think that we’ve created a safe space where our team feels empowered to take risks to solve this problem.”
Ultimately, Garitty says that their client’s consumers are FPW Media’s north star. They focus on understanding where the consumer is spending their time so that they can connect them with the client in an emotionally impactful way.
Owen Garitty likes boxing, gardening, and talking to people on airplanes.
To anyone else, they’re simply hobbies, but to Garitty, these interests have taught him invaluable lessons about business.
He’s found that boxing and gardening are humbling parallels to the business world. In the ring and in the garden, he can put forward his best effort, intellect, and plans, yet still end up with a dead plant or a blackeye despite his hard work.
“Especially in gardening, you have to give over control in a way that you never do in business.”
The gym and the garden aren’t the only nontraditional places where Garitty grows his business mindset. He receives great advice when he has his head in the clouds.
“I’ve met people on airplanes that have had more of an impact on my business than anyone else,” he said. “If someone is great at what they do, I’m going to talk to them and learn something.”
He recalled meeting a gentleman who was flying first-class for the very first time. The man was genuinely excited for the ride, asking Garitty a myriad of questions about first-class features.
“I was exhausted from the day and indifferent to the flight, but here’s this guy next to me, 10 or 20 years older than me, who worked the same schedule as I did that day and couldn’t be happier to fly first-class,” he said. “That experience taught me that regardless of how many times you do something, there’s always a new perspective to consider.”
If you were to take a snapshot of FPW Media, Garitty believes that the image would radiate excitement.
“While we are always innovating and pushing the boundaries we don’t chase the “new” new thing,” he said. “Media is incredibly fractured and there’s a huge amount of noise to cut through. FPW goes beyond digital marketing to provide our clients with exposure during multiple touchpoints of the customer experience. We’ve gone so far as to screenprint and embroidery merchandise in-house.”
He continued that his team is driven to engage the customer in as many impactful ways as possible.
“If our client is represented at an event, we want to expose the customer to the event, tell them about it, send them a mailer, meet our clients at the event, and provide them with a tangible item for them to take the brand home with them. We want to be with the customer through each part of their engagement with our clients and make sure that each touchpoint tells a cohesive story – a story that matters to the customer.”
Garitty may have his lens focused on FPW Media’s success, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t set his sights on other ways to express his creativity. Along with giving talks on marketing topics, he’s also exploring areas where the future of marketing may extend.
“I’m focused on creating incredible stories and experiences,” he said. “An experience is a story that’s physically played out; I’m working through other avenues to do just that. By expanding my focus to new areas, I can bring new ideas back to FPW.”
There’s plenty to be learned from Owen Garitty’s success as a business owner, but if there’s one quality that you can steal from this Self-Made Man, it’s patience. Success takes time. Rarely does misfortune and failure ever pencil themselves into our schedules at a convenient time. Owen Garitty has had his setbacks, some unique to many business owners and others that few will ever experience during their lifetime.
And, yet, he seems in no rush to make rash decisions in business or in life. Instead, he continues to operate with the same focus, pause, and thoughtful intent that launched his career as a photographer.
“If I learned one thing about business from photography, it’s to spend a long time looking at something before you put your camera up to take the photo.”
Put your head down and work harder than everyone else. The younger entrepreneurs are focused on posting it, on grinding it out in their photos. If you work harder than the people around you, that will get noticed. That leads to success. Most people won’t do it, though. They’d rather just talk about it. You don’t need to be loud about what you’re doing; it actually comes across as you’re not doing it because those who actually are don’t have the time to post it on social media.
For those who are serious about rising to the job of their industry, I recommend never assuming that you’re the smartest person in the room. When someone talks to me about something I’m really knowledgeable about, I hone in and see if there’s any part of what they’re saying that I can take as a new approach. Proving that you’re right doesn’t do more than give you a quick pat on the back, and even if someone is passionately wrong, you can at least learn why they're wrong.
I want people who are as invested as I am in building something great – and I understand that some might find that perspective a little intense. But what I’ve found is that these types of employees are the ones who earn elevated positions while driving our success. We hired an individual to work part-time at the front desk. She didn’t have experience in our industry, but she bought into us and we bought into her. She became a director in three years.
I also think that certain intangibles are vital to our success. Our team is full of self-starters who are great at solving problems. Clients come to FPW to solve a problem and we must solve that problem, not simply offer a cookie cutter solution. Everything we do is unique which means we need people who can take ownership of a problem and solve it. We are constantly checking our egos at the door because our goal is to collaboratively provide the best solution, not the solution that one or two people think is the right one.
In many ways, the agency as we know it is going to be dead in ten years. I don’t think of it as an if. The agency as it exists now is not flexible enough for the level of change that is happening. The only people or agencies that can be relevant to their clients are those who can keep up with this monumental level of change. I see that most agencies cannot; they’re not modular enough. They don’t respond rapidly enough to trends and they’re stuck in rigid processes. Many clients are moving certain elements, those that are traditionally agency-led, in-house. They’ll keep what they want and subcontract pieces to agencies. This won’t be a problem for us; we’re already supporting our client’s in-house teams. We are a tool in their toolbox to help them achieve their goals.
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