Principal, Brand Activation Director | Populous

Kelly Holton has had plenty of “goosebump moments” during her time with global design firm Populous. At the top is working closely with the Chicago Cubs on upgrading Wrigley Field as part of the 1060 Project, a five-year project completed in 2019.

“I love every inch of Wrigley Field,” Holton said. “I got to know it well, and to design for one of the most iconic venues in sports, enhancing the way fans can interact with the historic franchise, made it a really memorable experience.”

She has been in the design industry for 17 years, starting with a boutique branding agency before she transitioned to a museum design firm that specialized in civil rights and cultural institutions. Working with such a variety of outlets has kept her career and ideas fresh.

“Each team that we work with reflects a unique culture,” Holton said. “Whether we position it for student-athlete recruits or a fan base, it’s our role as the designer to amplify that culture so you see it and feel it in the most impactful ways on game day.”

Within professional sports and live event venues, Populous designs an ecosystem tied to sponsors that allows her and her team to work a variety of angles within a venue.

“Our goal is to honor each partner’s identity,” she said. “We’re working for the venue and team, but we also work directly with the corporate brands to integrate their stories seamlessly and impactfully in ways that really add to the experience. It’s not just about signage or visibility, we’re looking at ways to engage fans with the brand and build some unexpected memories.”

Holton counts two directors as mentors. The first is Jerry Eisterhold, the president “at a smaller company where I ‘wore many hats’ and got to experience a broad degree of roles and responsibilities on both the business and creative sides of the company.

“Now, Brian Mirakian at Populous has had a lot of trust in me to take a proactive approach in building our talented team and stellar portfolio. He’s a mentor who is always there for me as a sounding board, to strategize and to help me in my growth as a leader.”

Holton said she has generational advantages with her job, namely social media.

“It has become a huge driver in how we approach an activation for a team or sponsor, and I’m an active consumer of it as well.”


Impact: NextGen 2022 Hub