Media Maverick

Media guru Joe Murphy left Huntington for the bright lights of New York but returned with a wealth of experience and a renewed love for his hometown.

By Kasey Stevens

From a dishwasher at Tascali’s to having no formal college education to a long career in retail sales, Joe Murphy’s journey to become a successful business owner has taken some turns off the traditional path. However, the 2-year-old production company he founded, Murphy Media, is quickly becoming a Huntington staple.

A graduate of Huntington East High School, Murphy was born and raised in Huntington. About 15 years ago, while he was working as a sales manager at Circuit City and running a small car stereo shop, Murphy decided to explore his career possibilities which led him to New York City. There he found a job with Night Train Inc., a high-end production and location services company specializing in advertising, photography, television and film. It was here that he found his true calling. And while the potential for an exciting career in the Big Apple seemed promising, Murphy felt the tug to return home.

Murphy’s first taste of home after building a successful career in New York City was working on We Are Marshall. His friend Jeanie Cheek was also returning to Huntington to work on the film. Cheek is a Huntington East High School and Marshall University graduate who worked with Murphy in NYC. She is now the wardrobe designer and stylist for the hit show Lip Sync Battle, as well as all of the Capital One “What’s in Your Wallet” spots.

At the age of 31, Murphy signed on as an intern for the film.

“I was gone for years and when I came back I saw my hometown through Hollywood’s eyes,” Murphy said. “They put me in a parking vest and basically I was a parking cone. But I was cool with it because I’m the kind of guy who says, ‘Give me the ball, put me in.’ And that’s what they did.”

Murphy’s determination and grit helped him work his way up on the set, eventually working as a set assistant to the director, McG.

“I felt called back to Huntington for an opportunity to help tell these stories about my hometown and share them with the world,” Murphy said.

His talent for storytelling also emerged when he helped Huntington win the America’s Best Community competition in 2017. Murphy worked with several dedicated people on the winning entry that focused on the city’s many positive initiatives such as Huntington in Bloom and the Huntington PetSafe Dog Park.

“All of these little success stories went together to show a community that despite having its challenges — whether it was the floods of 1913 and 1937, the Marshall plane crash in 1970 or the recent opioid epidemic — is a city of comebacks,” Murphy said. “I came back 10 years ago and I saw a city ready for a renaissance. It hasn’t been easy and there are a lot of rough edges, but we’re turning a corner.”

His talent and content strategy on the America’s Best Community campaign garnered high praise.

“Joe Murphy was the creative mastermind behind our efforts to win the America’s Best Communities competition,” said Huntington Mayor Steve Williams. “The breadth of his talent is rare. He could choose to trade his craft in any large metropolitan market, yet he chooses to live and work in Huntington.”

Today Murphy describes himself as a content strategist and creator. His resume is littered with a variety of production jobs, including work for The Biggest Loser, The Amazing Race, Disney, Sony and the History Channel.

Murphy worked with the History Channel on two projects — a documentary about the Hatfield-McCoy feud and an episode of the show American Pickers. He also helped produce an episode of DIY Network’s Barnwood Builders. All three projects were filmed at Heritage Farm Museum & Village, and helped cast the national spotlight on the open-air living museum in Wayne County.

“Joe is a visionary. He sees things that most people cannot and he has such a unique perspective,” said Audy Perry, executive director of Heritage Farm. “He’s allowed us to be seen on a bigger stage through his dedication and talent.”

Murphy is now seeking to help put more of Huntington on that bigger stage. His company is in the process of renovating new office and studio space on the second floor of the West Virginia Building in downtown Huntington. The space will allow room for growth and will have what Murphy calls “creative workspace,” open offices for freelancers or production teams who are local or traveling through the area.

And while you can often find Murphy behind the lens of a camera, he insists his work involves much more than video and film.

“I don’t sell ads, and I don’t make commercials regularly. That’s not what I do,” he explains. “I find a problem and figure out a way to solve it, whether it’s a mascot, a coloring book or an app.”

One of the problems he’s most passionate about solving is addiction.

“We work with all of these organizations to tell a new story of recovery and hope, and paint a new picture to show people that there is a better way. Because you can’t do better if you don’t see better,” Murphy said.

While he noted that addiction efforts used to focus on recovery, today the focus is on education and prevention. Murphy and his team recently launched a character in the form of a talking bottle, Rex the Rx, to help educate students on the dangers of prescription medication.

“The message is ‘Don’t keep Rex around.’ If your name’s not on him, he doesn’t belong to you. If the date is expired, get rid of him because we have to reduce access to these drugs,” Murphy said.

The character is part of a partnership with the University of Charleston School of Pharmacy, the Drug Enforcement Agency and Kanawha, Cabell and Putnam County schools.

Another elementary-based initiative Murphy is working on is providing Halloween costumes for children in local Title 1 (low-income) schools. He and his team coordinate with students to select their top choices, and the week before trick-or-treat they receive a brand-new Halloween costume.

“My dad worked hard but we didn’t always have extra money for something like a Halloween costume,” Murphy recalled. “That was when I first realized we didn’t have as much as some families.”

His determination to make the most out of that situation has changed the lives of hundreds of children in the Tri-State.

Joe Murphy’s journey back to Huntington has not only helped shine the national spotlight on his hometown, but also improved the lives of many young people in the region. Whether it has been working on a major motion picture, a documentary, a television series, a film about the spirit of Huntington or a local grade school, he has made a difference.

“His talent is only exceeded by his love for our city,” noted Mayor Williams. “His heart drives his choices in life, and we are blessed to have him working with us to transform this community.”


KASEY STEVENS is the managing editor of the Huntington Quarterly.


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