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Alumni of Distinction: Laurie Fagnani
by Matt Jardin |
Laurie Fagnani, B.A. Journalism and Public Communications '86, will receive a 2020 Alumni of Achievement award at the virtual Homecoming Breakfast on Oct. 9.
Touring MSI Communications’ trendy office can feel like visiting a tech startup new to Alaska. Located in downtown Anchorage with a stunning view overlooking the Chugach Mountains, the marketing agency’s space boasts an open layout ideal for collaboration and supporting a completely paperless workflow.
The current office is a far cry away from their first home. Founded in 1995 by UAA journalism and public communications alumna Laurie Fagnani after the birth of her daughter, MSI started as a home business so Fagnani could pick up the occasional contract without having to go back to work full time.
It didn’t take long for Fagnani to continue expanding her family and her business. Around the same time she had her second child, a son, MSI got its second employee: Fagnani’s sister. The siblings acquired a few more contracts and moved into an actual office. There the company encountered its first make-or-break moment.
“The real turn came when my sister had to leave and I had to decide if I was going to build this business. It was too much for one person but not quite enough for two full-time people,” said Fagnani. “Sometimes you have to make the leap and trust that you’re going to go there.”
Additionally, Fagnani credits her UAA degree — which included an emphasis in advertising and a minor in business marketing — for helping her take MSI to the next level.
“My dual degree really set me up for success. I cannot tell you how much I rely on those disciplines,” said Fagnani. “Just because a person is good at advertising doesn’t mean they are really great at running a business. Running a business is a much different set of skills than making great ads. The dual degree allows me to have at least academic training in both areas.”
In the years since Fagnani decided to make that leap, MSI has successfully positioned itself as the go-to agency for Alaska’s resource industry. In order to best serve their clients, she stresses the need to bring in people who have an intuitive understanding of those industries.
“Some of the key drivers of our economy — oil and gas, tourism, transportation, mining, Native corporations — that’s our niche,” said Fagnani. “What we have found is when somebody grows up in Alaska and attends the university, they have a much keener sense of those industries and markets. It’s why their resumes get put to the top of the stack. They have a leg up from other applicants because they understand the cultural differences and economic drivers. For example, we don’t have to teach them how to say Utqiagvik.”
Of the 18 people who work at MSI, one-fourth of them have a UAA connection — four alums and one adjunct professor — a point that Fagnani takes great pride in.
“I am such a poster child for the university system,” she said. “The fact that I represent the Seawolf Nation and I look actively and seek out other Seawolves to join our firm, that’s a blessing and that’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s a full circle of our business being a part of the community.”
In addition to hiring from UAA, Fagnani credits the implementation of a senior management team with specialties that complement her own as integral to MSI’s growth in recent years. Having that senior team also allows her to focus on the aspects she loves most about running her business.
“At some point, a sole owner learns they can’t do it all,” said Fagnani. “So you have to surround yourself with good people that are smarter than you and doing things you don’t do. It takes a while to build that team, and in my 25 years of business, this team is better than it’s ever been. It feels good and I’m energized to come back and continue working. It is a gift when you get to do what you trained for academically.”
Written by Matt Jardin, UAA Office of University Advancement