Alaskans are a little different than the human beings you’ve come to know. We like to break the ice, ski the powder, fish with bears, surf with killer whales. Yeah, that’s right: we surf. Know what else? We welded together an 800-mile pipeline over mountains and rivers. We created an airline that is now the industry’s leader. We built small Native companies into mighty, international corporations. We’re Alaskans and we live at the top of the world. We roll up our sleeves, hitch up the dogs and go to work every day in places other people wouldn’t even visit. Think it’s all dudes? Think again. Laurie Fagnani started MSI Communications as a one-woman, one-client shop. Twenty years later, we’re the state’s premier full-service advertising agency, home to 25 of the most talented design ninjas and account jockeys in the business, responsible for shaping the public imaging of companies that have built Alaska into a recession-proof economy with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. Yeah. We’re that MSI.
“I didn’t start out 20 years ago with the goal of owning one of the largest, most creative agencies in town,” said agency founder Laurie Fagnani. “I started out with the goal of providing cutting-edge creative solutions that generate results. I just knew that if I built a great team and stuck to those goals, we would be successful. Sure enough, the agency has grown organically each and every year since we started.”
Under the name Marketing Solutions, the agency opened its doors in some very humble circumstances, with part-time office hours set up in Laurie’s home, which she shared with husband Matt and their first child. She had exactly zero employees, no office and only one client: Phillips Cruises and Tours. That was in 1995. The agency established a network of freelance creative professionals to create one of the first “virtual agencies” in the country.
As the agency’s workload grew, her sister Julie joined the firm and together they opened the first office, near the Sullivan Arena. Laurie managed the marketing strategies for clients, while Julie was the agency’s media buyer and administrative guru. The office was staffed full-time by each of them working part-time; and to extend the budget, the sisters shared a nanny for childcare.
Within a year, Julie’s family was transferred out of Alaska and Laurie made the first strategic move to grow the business and work full time. She moved the agency to a small office space on C Street and hired five of the most creative professionals in the business – all women, all seeking a professional challenge and all dedicated to focusing on generating results for clients.
“Those were fun, creative years,” said Laurie, “but it was a struggle as I learned about running a business and finding your sweet spot in the market.”
Five years later, the agency moved to its current location on Denali Street and counted big names like BP and Visit Anchorage as clients. “Having a diversified client base has been key to achieving our growth over the years.”
As Laurie learned the ropes of running a business, the agency continued to grow. “Simply put, we are a success today because of the employees and the clients I’ve had the honor to work with. That’s why my name has never been on the masthead - this firm is more than me. We work hard to establish strong ties with our co-workers, and we encourage clients to know our entire staff. This ability to have personal relationships among my employees, and especially clients, is one of the main reasons I could never fully function in a large corporation,” said Laurie. If you don’t believe this, join us any Friday afternoon for social hour on the agency patio.
With the move to the current location came an opportunity to evolve the agency into a true full-service advertising agency, with an in-house editing/sound suite, web development, social media and TV/radio production capabilities. This allowed the firm to take on clients like Alaska Airlines Club 49 and the historic write-in campaign for U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, which was perhaps one of the most hard-fought but fun campaigns we’ve ever conducted.
Twenty years after she started, Laurie Fagnani is at the helm of the only Alaska ad agency that creates the national advertising for a major brand, Alaska Air Cargo, and is responsible for shaping the public images of some of Alaska’s largest employers. There’s still just one woman at the helm, but her little agency has come a long way, done a lot of good for Alaska’s economy and made a whole lot of friends. If loyalty is proof of character, then the fact that Laurie’s very first client is still with her says a lot about the company this woman keeps.
Chris St. John
Digital Media Strategist,
Digital Marketing Specialist