BooneOakley president and CCO talks disruption, risk-taking

David Oakley. Photo provided

By Amanda Long, senior account director, Hughes Agency

Event: Endeavor’s Collaborators & Cocktails monthly professional development series
Where: Endeavor, a coworking community for creatives in the ONE Building
Who Was There: 80+ creative industry and corporate marketing professionals
Feature Presentation: David Oakley, president and chief creative officer, BooneOakley

In a world where consumers are bombarded with thousands of messages from advertisers per day, Charlotte, N.C., advertising agency BooneOakley has made a name for itself by delivering disruptive, provocative creative that elevates its clients to a completely different plane than their competition. Clients including HBO, MTV, Bojangles’, CARMAX, State Farm, Food Lion’s Bloom brand, and Wells Fargo. At creative coworking community Endeavor’s monthly professional development speaker series, BooneOakley president and creative director David Oakley inspired and educated attendees as he shared key lessons from his company’s 17-year journey – a journey that started rocking people’s attention from day one.

Get a life. No, really. Get one.

In an industry that is known for relentless deadlines and grueling hours, Oakley set the stage of his presentation with this very important message: “All you think about is doing great work, pleasing clients, getting it done on time, making sure the work is good enough to get into awards shows. What you’ve got to remember is you’ve got to get out and enjoy life. The stuff that happens outside your office is so much better than inside. Prioritize your time outside of the office. When you do that, good stuff happens in the office.”

Why is your name upside down?

If you drive by the BooneOakley office in downtown Charlotte, you can’t help but notice that “Oakley” is upside down on the building signage. At least once a day, someone stops by asking if they know the sign is upside down. “The real reason it is upside down is because I feel like we look at things from a different perspective. It does what the logo is supposed to do. It has amazing stopping power. People notice and remember it,” Oakley said.

Failure is an option. Fear is not.

On the first day BooneOakley was open, they made international news for what was thought of as a massive mistake. It was October 2000, two weeks before one of the most hotly contested presidential elections in U.S. history, and BooneOakley put up a billboard with a photo of George Bush… alongside the Al Gore campaign logo. Shortly after, Oakley received a phone call from Fox News demanding to know who the client was, followed by calls from the AP, CNN, The New York Times, and even the head of the Republican National Committee. Oakley pretended he didn’t realize they had made a mistake and waited it out over the weekend as news spread of their egregious error. On Monday, a banner was added to the billboard reading, “copy editor needed,” along with the URL for their client, job postings website “It was the most amazing way to start an agency. We didn’t think we’d blow it up like that. What we did learn is it’s OK to make mistakes in your business. You’ve got to be OK with failing and doing things that might not work. There is a chance you might hit a home run,” Oakley said.

With, not for.

In the beginning, BooneOakley’s mantra was, “Do great work for people you like.” Fast-forward to today, and the agency has only changed one word, which has made all the difference. “It’s evolved because of how agencies work. Now everything is so collaborative. You aren’t working for people; you are working with people. And that is the biggest difference in our business. People say digital is the big change. No, it’s the way we work,” Oakley said.

The best piece of advice received, ever.

Before Oakley started his agency, he spoke with the head of a “creative superpower” agency in Seattle he admired. When the agency head asked, “What is BooneOakley going to be?” Oakley said it would be the best creative agency in the Southeast, doing work that people notice. The agency head told Oakley he would fail, because in reality “great creative” was really only a 7 or 8 on this superpower agency’s top 10 list. Relationships were No. 1. “If you don’t have a true trusting relationship with your client, you are going to fail. It is the foundation for everything – with employees, vendors, too,” said Oakley. “Those were the best words of advice I’ve ever gotten. It seems so simple.”

Next Collaborators & Cocktails
Endeavor will announce its January 2018 speaker next month.
Endeavor Members: Free
Pre-registered Nonmembers: $30
Email [email protected] for info.

Endeavor, a creative, collaborative coworking community, presents a monthly professional development speaker series called Collaborators & Cocktails, where marketing chiefs from brands like Southwest Airlines, Ritz Carlton, and Nike share their marketing strategies.


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