Talent Champion – Husani Oakley

Talent Champion Spotlight

AEF Talent Champion - Husani Oakley

Husani Oakley
Chief Technology Officer
Deutsch New York

Husani Oakley is a start-up and technology veteran with nearly fifteen years of building, creating and developing world-class digital experiences. A lead practitioner for Deutsch’s AI innovation studio, Great Machine, he works across clients, including Anheuser-Busch, Reebok, PNC Bank, Siemens, Booz Allen Hamilton and AT&T. In 2020, he was named one of Adweek’s Creative 100 for his bracing insights and fresh ideas and is a member of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.

Start-up creds for Oakley include GoldBean, a fintech startup focusing on women, millennials, and POC; founding digital agency Oakley + Partners; and cultural event newsletter Flavorpill. While at Wieden + Kennedy as director of creative technology, Oakley worked on brands, including Nike, Heineken, Target, and Delta. Recognized as a thought leader, he’s spoken at The White House, ad:tech, and SXSW.

What prompted you to get involved with the AEF and why are you passionate about the future of the industry?

It’s a privilege and an honor to help mold the future of our industry, especially considering I never specifically sought out a career in this industry myself. When I got started back in the early dot-com days, if you wanted to make things for the Internet, you had two choices — you went to an agency, or you went to a startup.

For better or for worse, I chose the former. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that innovation only happens when fresh minds tackle old problems. Fresh minds, new minds, minds unencumbered by the rules that were drilled into the rest of us over the length of our careers.

There are moments that happen when you work in this industry that remind you why you wake up every day. You know those moments — when you’re focused on solving a particular client challenge with data and creativity and, frankly, moxie — and you realize how lucky you are to be in the room.

That’s a feeling I wish everyone on the planet could experience, at least once. And the only way that happens is if we continue to welcome people into our industry with open arms, listening to their ideas, and helping them grow.

What is the best career advice you've ever received?

An old boss once told me the secret to her success — she would immerse herself into a client’s business. Not like the rest of us do, not just reading the new-business-dept-produced deck, but actual immersion. She’d find everything ever written about the brand, from hoary old business strategy books to C-suite biographies, and she’d read on the train, or after putting the kids down, or while walking to yet another meeting.

And by the time she was done, the only thing she didn’t have in her toolkit was the experience of actually BEING the client. But all the work she’d put in was the next best thing. She didn’t do this just to understand the jargon, or to gain the ability to casually name- or event-drop in conversation — she did it so that she would truly understand not only where the client came from, but where they should go, and how they should get there.

I now give that same advice to anyone who asks (and even to those who don’t!). The power of being agency-side is objectivity, but objectivity without knowledge is meaningless. That’s an axiom that gets missed these days, with an increasing focus on short-term thinking. It’s critical that folks entering our industry fully and truly understand what we’re supposed to be — smart, well-read, creative thinkers who can help our clients through their communications challenges.

Who was your favorite professor and why?

On the first day of a music theory class, the teacher (who was also my private music tutor, for the record) opened with a quote that still impacts me approximately three million years later — “music is sound and silence, arranged to produce emotion.”

To him, it was a simple sentence, a dictionary-style definition of what we’d spend the year on, and what I and my fellow students had spent our childhoods studying. But to me, it was everything. It focused my passion on playing in the space between art and science, which is what I’ve done ever since.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The best part of my job is waking up to a new challenge every day — and as a technologist, I actually enjoy realizing that “technology” isn’t always the right solve for those challenges. It’s thrilling to constantly be reminded that we’re a human business, and neither the old answers nor the obvious answers are enough anymore.

"I developed a much higher respect for social marketing by seeing the value and complexity of this function which seemed very ambiguous to me before."
— Student at Boston College after AEF sent speakers from DigitasLBi