Entrepreneur Frank Andrews ’90 turbocharges MJ-school’s drive for innovation

A philanthropic Campaign for Carolina fund established by Robert “Frank” Andrews IV ’90 for the UNC School of Media and Journalism fosters and celebrates entrepreneurialism at the school. Distinguished Professor John Sweeney, a mentor during Andrews’ undergraduate days at the MJ-school, leads The Frank Andrews Fund for Aspiring Agency Entrepreneurs. He is planning a series of events, competitions and outreach efforts to nurture entrepreneurial thinking in students and to shine a light on innovation by MJ-school faculty and alumni. Sweeney will work with other faculty to develop ideas that nurture students in an entrepreneurial direction.

“Frank Andrews gets us,” said Susan King, dean of the school, “and he gets why we want to foster nimble, innovative thinking in our students. He himself learned to be a masterful communicator here at the MJ-school, and he respects the solid foundation we provide. With support like his, we can continue to position our students and graduates in the slipstream of the rapidly changing media and communications landscape.”

Andrews returned to Carolina, earning an MBA from Kenan-Flagler Business School. He was and remains an adviser to UNC’s Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship. The entrepreneur and business leader noticed that some years, the entrepreneurship minor was filled with more media and journalism majors than any other major on campus. He wasn’t surprised. He pointed out that all media properties — be they print, broadcast or digital — began with an entrepreneur who had a story to tell. Andrews decided to target his MJ-school giving toward innovation-minded communications and journalism students.

“I want this to be an opportunity for minds to be opened to the idea that journalists can be entrepreneurial,” he said, “and can do interesting and exciting things in all sorts of arenas.”

Andrews is the CEO of ARC Holdings, a family of related businesses that began with The August Jackson Company, a leading brand engagement agency he founded in Washington D.C. in 2003. His business endeavors now include destination management firm Hosts Global and event decor company Style Event Design. Last year, August Jackson acquired communications firm P.W. Feats Inc. in Baltimore and opened an office there. Andrews continues to keep his eye out for related opportunities.

“We are still growing,” he said, noting a penchant for complementary businesses that fall under the ARC umbrella. “We will do something entrepreneurial or something acquisitive at least yearly.”  

Chip off the old block

Andrews grew up in Raleigh where his father, Robert “Chip” Andrews III, retired former chairman and CEO of FMI Corporation, is a well-regarded business and community leader. The elder Andrews, an NC State graduate, is a longtime supporter of his alma mater. He and his wife, Lyn, are noted friends of the arts on the Raleigh campus. He served as chair of the Gregg Museum and on multiple boards including in his current position on the Board of Trustees. To his oldest child, he also served as a model for how to run a business, and as a trusted adviser — “to this day,” Frank Andrews emphasized.

“I know fathers have a significant influence over their children,” said Bill Morton ’62, a mentor early in Frank Andrews’ career. “I’ve always said that acknowledging our God-given gifts and embracing them and doing with those gifts what we really love to do is the most important example that we can set for our children. I think Frank’s father has obviously had a significant influence on Frank, as my father did on me.”

A self-described late bloomer, Frank Andrews studied at Broughton High School and — having blossomed into a bit of an underachiever — finished high school at Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, Virginia. He quickly corrected course and was honored as a UNC Morehead Scholar finalist by the time he graduated high school in 1986. At that time, the honor was capped with an offer of full tuition, helping to confirm his decision to accept the scholarship and attend UNC.

‘Falling into’ media and journalism at Carolina

Initially an English major, Andrews realized he was more interested in crafting his own writing skills than studying great works by other authors.

“I kind of fell into the J-school,” he recalled. “And it was a remarkable time.”

Legendary professor Jim Shumaker — who inspired the popular comic strip “Shoe” by Jeff MacNelly — became Andrews’ adviser and always made time for him. Andrews looked back fondly on Shumaker’s “Intro to Writing and Reporting” class (now MEJO 153). Class began with a screening of “All The President’s Men,” the 1974 Alan J. Pakula film version about The Washington Post’s investigation of Watergate. A generation later, Andrews’ eldest son Robert Andrews, a rising sophomore at UNC, remembered adjunct professor Stephen Bouser’s MEJO 153 anecdote about sneaking into The Washington Post’s headquarters and running into publisher Kay Graham, who ended up giving him a tour. 

As a student, Andrews spent several years working part-time for Rick Brewer, UNC's sports information director (now emeritus). Fellow 1988–89 intern Steve Kirschner, now UNC’s senior associate athletic director responsible for mens’ basketball and golf, remembered with a laugh:

“We called Frank ‘Thin Ice.’ He was a very confident young man who was not afraid to speak his mind. Sometimes he would go right up to the edge in terms of what could be said, but he’d never cross the line. He had a lot of common sense. He was savvy. He was not afraid to speak his mind. You need that in sports communication. It foretold some very good qualities to have in his future career.”

Full speed ahead, with a twist

The confident young man’s career path after graduation wasn’t as straightforward as it would seem.

“He knew our agreement in my firm,” said his father. “We could not take family members in. Frank often said that was his motivation: ‘Can’t work for Dad.’ He had to find his own way.”

“I feel tremendous pride,” said Chip Andrews, looking back on the career path his son has forged on his own terms, in his own sphere of business.

It was in Washington D.C. at his first job as account executive at Hill & Knowlton that Frank Andrews really hit his stride.

“For the first time in my life, I wanted my work to be great every time,” Andrews recalled during his commencement address to fall 2008 MJ-school graduates. Rather than abstract 500-word assignments, he was getting real projects with real deadlines, and the stakes were high even for a junior member of the team.

“Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait,” Andrews recalled. “And the exiled government of Kuwait hired Hill & Knowlton globally to have public opinion in favor of the world overturning that move. And those are big stakes. Particularly when you are 23 years old. You’re learning from people who are pulling the strings. [It was a] really interesting time and place.”

He loved what he was doing, and felt like the luckiest person alive. A couple of years later, he was sent to Honolulu to the company’s 100-person Asia-Pacific office, an adventure in itself for someone three years out of college on the East Coast. But with an eye on his future, Andrews returned to Carolina in 1993 to get his MBA.

At the time, he thought of Wall Street as the only workplace more exciting than what he’d been doing in Washington. But an internship between his first and second years of business school proved him wrong. Wall Street was not for him. Jack Morton Company, a creative agency with a national presence, came to Kenan-Flagler to recruit in 1995. Andrews jumped at the offer from founder Jack Morton and his son Bill, then-chairman and CEO, to run what was at the time a small Washington D.C. office.

“Jack Morton always had a penchant for finding good, interesting, engaging sales people,” his son remembered. “That’s what he was always looking for. Frank certainly represents that.”

Andrews was motivated and moved by Bill Morton’s faith in him.

“I’ve learned from that to try not to worry about how old somebody is,” said Andrews. “When you see someone that you think maybe can make a difference, to give ’em a shot. I learned a lot from Bill.”

Over the next eight years, Andrews led three offices at Jack Morton Company and by 2003, he was vice president and general manager. He described the privately held company as “culturally strong and proud. It treated people the right way and gave people great opportunities…I think Bill has been a great mentor. Because that’s what we’ve tried to do [at August Jackson] as well.”

The opposite of a risk-taker?

When Jack Morton Company — which later became Jack Morton Worldwide — was sold to the Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG), Andrews began an entrepreneurial path for himself which led to his founding The August Jackson Company.

Looking back, Andrews acknowledged that leaving to start his own firm was a significant risk. He was 35 years old and his sons were three and four years old. He was providing for his family with all of the responsibilities that entails, including a mortgage.

“I was confident that if it didn’t work, I could go get a job,” he said. “Still, it was a pretty big leap."

“It was very scary. But ‘naked and honest.’ You’re out there. There is nobody to blame — when you decide to do that, to step out, open a business, put your kids’ names on the door [August Jackson is named for Andrews’ sons] — you don’t really have a choice but to succeed.”

Although Andrews pointed out that when taking the entrepreneurial plunge, he may have embodied a different entrepreneurial characteristic: less of a risk-taker than what author Malcolm Gladwell described in a 2010 New Yorker article as an analytical business leader, who drives as much risk out of the equation as possible and then takes the best and most-informed position he or she can take. 

That first year, Andrews worked hard to build an independent client base. His son remembers being a young passenger in the car listening to the work-related calls his father would take during the drive.

“I gleaned so much info as a kid,” said Robert Andrews of those days, who remembered later in life asking his father to strategically walk him through how August Jackson worked. “Even when I was far too young to understand anything — the logistics and operations part of what any communications firm will do — I would just soak it all in.”

Lisa Stevens was one of the first five employees that Andrews hired at August Jackson. Today, she’s senior vice president and executive producer. She remembered the fledgling communications firm being driven by a start-up mentality during the first five years. She said the new firm was “all him, basically, really making it happen. Finding the clients, servicing the clients, doing the recruiting. He was down in the weeds for sure.”

August Jackson was successful from that first year forward, and continues to grow. The business model now includes a core staff that hovers around 100 and is augmented with literally thousands of specialized freelancers with whom the firm has built longtime relationships.

“The next five to 10 years [of the business] were focused on growth,” said Stevens. “We codified some of our processes and practices. It is a much more mature agency posture.”

“We’ve grown together with some of our long-term clients,” she added.

More than a dozen MJ-school graduates have furthered their careers at August Jackson.

Sarah Ross ’12, August Jackson’s director of strategic partnerships, is one of those graduates. She talked about the “UNC Pipeline” at Andrews’ firm.

“We’ve had at least one intern from UNC every year for as long as I can remember,” she noted. “We’ve found that the UNC students who apply for the internship program are consistently polished and professional and have great experience, which is why they stand out from the pack every time. And they do really well. Which is why we ended up offering at least a dozen of them full-time positions.”

“[Frank] has hired a number of our finest students,” Sweeney concurred. “And has always been supportive about helping and creating opportunity for new graduates. That puts him in a special place in a world where companies often don't help students to get a strong start.”

As it stands today, the firm’s clientele breaks down to a third each from the corporate, not-for-profit and higher education spheres. Revenue skews more towards the corporate, where the company provides a blend of internal communications and culture work. For their largest pharmaceutical client for example, August Jackson prepares content for an 8,000-person sales force related to dozens of products and various segments. The content takes all forms from digital to print to video delivered via the web to scripted text messaging and finally, to the components required for events like a product launch. For a large commercial and defense contractor, August Jackson brings the firm’s seven brand attributes to life for more than 100,000 global employees over time, across multiple channels including environmental graphics around the world. Specialists within the firm tailor similar work to fit the needs of the not-for-profit and higher education sectors.

What it all boils down to is world-class content. Communications skills refined in Andrews’ case under the tutelage of professors like Jim Shumaker and John Sweeney, and colleagues like his old sports info boss Rick Brewer and fellow intern Steve Kirschner.

“I would still say my core skill is writing,” said Andrews. “There are some that would disagree, but I think I can write as well as anybody. The ability to communicate through the written word is immensely important.”

Next steps

Acquiring Hosts Global, Style Event Design and P.W. Feats Inc. required a change in focus for Andrews. In 2011, he hired Jennifer Patino to grow the newly acquired Hosts into a global company. In 2016, he brought in a new CEO at August Jackson. Laura Shuler had been executive vice president at Jack Morton Company during his tenure there. Andrews became CEO of ARC Holdings, and chairman of each of the businesses.

“I was not doing nearly as good a job as I could be doing or used to do as the day-to-day AJ CEO,” he said. “Laura stepped right up. Classic example of the founder taking the business to a place. And the person that comes in after the founder taking it to all new places.”

The UNC Board of Trustees recently named Andews to the UNC Board of Visitors. His appointment begins on July 1, 2018. Andrews was inducted into the NC Media & Journalism Hall of Fame in 2010. He has served on the MJ-school's Foundation Board and continues to serve on the Board of Advisers. The Foundation Board focuses on the business needs of the institution.

“The Board of Advisers,” he said, “is about dreaming. Where can we take this thing, how cool can we be, and how do we get there.” He added, “I love both. I’ve really enjoyed serving on both boards.”

Where are his business enterprises headed?

“I’m still relatively young,” he laughed. “I’m not anywhere near done. I think we’re just going to keep having fun.”

“What influences and informs every decision is that we want to be among the best in what we do,” he said. “That informs the investments that you have to make in people, culture, infrastructure, developing new capabilities and growing.”

Does he see himself selling the companies eventually?

“I’ve never run the businesses that way,” he said. “I’m not positioning them for a transaction. We’re approached all the time…. I have decades more in me.”

As for the Frank Andrews Fund for Aspiring Agency Entrepreneurs, Andrews looks forward to watching innovative entrepreneurialism at the MJ-school blossom in response to his campaign gift.

The Campaign for Carolina seeks to raise an unprecedented $4.25 billion by Dec. 31, 2022, to move the University forward and make a difference in more people's lives, with $75 million coming from the School of Media and Journalism’s supporters. To date, more than 3,000 alumni donors have raised more than $26 million toward that goal.