Startup founder, agency exec Husani Oakley joins Deutsch NY as SVP-director of technology (The Drum)
By Bennett Bennett
February 20th, 2018
Deutsch’s New York office has added Husani Oakley as its new senior vice president of technology, working across its roster of clients including AB InBev, PNC Bank, Siemens, and DraftKings.
He joined the agency after spending four years as co-founder of investment platform GoldBean, where he also served as chief technology officer, helping to build and direct the product, as well as assembling its engineering team.
Before his time at GoldBean, Oakley was Wieden+Kennedy's director of creative technology, working on brands including Nike, Heineken, Target, and Delta. In 2011, he launched his own digital agency Oakley + Partners, working with clients and agencies including Disney, Google, Cutwater and Droga5. Oakley has also served in leadership positions at Omnicom’s Evolution Bureau (EVB) and EuroRSCG (now Havas). His work spans across websites and microsites to out-of-home and experiential; he has earned Webby's, One Show, D&AD, FWA: Site of the Day and London International Awards recognition.
Oakley will report directly to Winston Binch, Deutsch's chief digital officer of North America.
Binch said in a statement: “We’re big believers in the power of technology to build brands. Having world-class tech leaders in our organization is mission critical, particularly rare talents like Husani who understand tech start-up, creative, and marketing culture, He’s a huge value add as we look to help our clients navigate the ever-changing technology and media landscape.”
Oakley, who had also launched publication Flavorpill in 2000, was initially unsure about rejoining agency life.
“I was skeptical about going back to advertising, but I started talking to Deutsch, and my skepticism was gone after the first conversation," he said. "The team and culture here are the ideal mix of storytellers and change makers.”
On his new surroundings and team, Oakley said: “I was welcomed from the first minute I walked in on my first day, and it hasn’t changed. Everyone’s been tremendous, and I feel super, super welcomed.”
“Embracing a culture of change" is something he learned in the startup world and hopes to continue at Deutsch. That logic is “almost built into the DNA of some agencies,” he said, “but what I love about Deutsch is this complete willingness to say, ‘Oh, let’s just try that. Let’s talk about it and try it and act more than talk’ and get it done. It fits with my experience on startup side really nicely.”
More traditional advertising agencies are fully committing to the expanded need for a head of technology. When Oakley was in the early days of his career, “technology was absolutely production, and more or less unproductive production, where the concept and visuals are crafted before, going over the fence and sent to the tech team, in what I’d like to call the ‘nerd basement.'"
Agencies, he said, “should see by now from the successes of Facebook and Google, as well as the non-technology-focused startups like Jet.com, that the execution of tech is just as important as storytelling. You can’t have one without the other.” He lauded the developers he now works with, who allow him to put the facets of his career together. “I’m able to give my two cents on strategy, on creative, on client management. We are here, one team, and we bring our practice to the table, and we play very well together.”
Oakley works in the New York office specifically but has quickly built a relationship with the teams in Los Angeles. “We’re talking all the time and have already started sharing learnings. We’d known each other by reputation, and now we share the same email domain, which is pretty cool.”
Looking back at his time running startups, he saw good reason to stay, citing the chance to have his hands in all parts of the business. However, the constant grind exhausted him.
"It was tough being awake at two in the morning and, in the midst of hashtag-startup-life, and you couldn't even look at why you've been working at two in the morning every day for the past three or four years," laughed Oakley. "Your work is, certainly in a small startup, across all practices — not just tech, not just brands, not just profits or sales. It's not just HR. It’s all of those things and I learned to split my attention in that way."
The opportunity to take those experiences with him, implement it across a team, and use it to help clients of variety, at scale, was exciting enough for Oakley to consider working at an agency. “I get excited when I have a 10 o'clock meeting with a finance client, and an 11:30 meeting with a CPG client. I really get a thrill from the constant change, day by day. It makes me think about the core patterns underlying what we do that make piece of work, good? What are the patterns underlying what we do that make technology execution good? Also, when we find those patterns, how do we make sure that everything we're doing is hitting on those key points?”
Oakley rounds out the agency’s digital leadership team, joining Rachel Mercer and Daniel Murphy, who run digital strategy and invention, and digital operations and production, respectively.
“We can combine our efforts, Voltron-style, and make some great work for our clients," he said, adding that "change is constant, but change for the better requires a nimble culture and a willingness to take risks. I'm excited to join an agency that's just as agile — and fearless — as the startups I've run and advised."