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Kelley Walton: Amazon Music’s Marketing Maven

As part of Boardroom’s Black History Month coverage, take a look at Walton’s career and her work in DEI to find out why she’s become a playmaker to watch and learn from in the marketing industry.

If you ask Kelley Walton about her career trajectory, she’ll tell you she’s someone who has operated behind the scenes across the marketing industry for the past 20 years at some of the most notable global brands.

Today, Walton is the head of global brand, product, and integrated marketing at Amazon Music. She’s grown into an integrated marketing strategies maven as a byproduct of her work at top brands such as the NBA, Under Armour, LVMH, and others. Like most, Walton’s career path was not linear, but she’s strived not only to climb the corporate ranks but to make sure she’s laying the foundation for more diverse professionals to follow in her footsteps.

“What I have come to really sharpen and hone in on is what I do well and what I can deliver. I’m really good at helping deliver business results at this intersection of culture, community, and commerce. I pay really close attention to trends and patterns,” Walton told Boardroom in an exclusive interview. “Long before the industry and everyone had their wake-up call with the unfortunate incidents around George Floyd’s death, I realized and was able to show that authentically connecting with young and diverse consumers was good for business. And so that’s what I’ve been able to do.”

As part of Boardroom’s Black History Month coverage, take a look at Walton’s career and her work in DEI to find out why she’s become a playmaker to watch and learn from in the marketing industry.

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Setting the Goal

Believe it or not, Walton grew up wanting to be an obstetrician-gynecologist, which is why she studied biology at Morris Brown College. She got about halfway through her studies before realizing she couldn’t stand the sight of blood. Since Walton was studying at the HBCU on an academic scholarship, she decided to finish her degree program. After college, she landed a temp job at a fintech company, but this business environment still didn’t interest her enough.

Walton played basketball growing up in Akron, Ohio, so sports have always been a part of her life. She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, and it wasn’t until one of her sorority sisters was going away to study sports marketing in graduate school at St. Thomas University that she realized what she wanted to do. Walton went to visit her in Miami before embarking on her own graduate school journey, where she earned an MBA in sports marketing and management at St. Thomas.

“I was like, if there’s a way that I can combine my love of sports with this business environment, I think that will be amazing for me,” Walton said.

Walton dived into her new career with ease. Early on, one of her most memorable learning experiences was her time interning with one of the only Black nightlife club owners in South Beach, Onyx. There, she observed first-hand how intertwined the sports and nightlife worlds really were. Walton also spent some time interning in the athletic department at the University of Miami and worked with a Super Bowl host committee. Collectively, these experiences shaped her love and passion for marketing and ultimately helped her decide that it was a career for her.

Paving the Way

Walton’s first full-time gig out of grad school was at an agency where Coca-Cola was her client. About two years into her role, Coca-Cola recruited her to join its team internally as an associate marketing manager. Philip Polk, a DEI executive and former chief DEI officer and VP of multicultural strategy at Hallmark Cards, was one of Walton’s mentors at the time who helped guide her through this transition. His insight and advice became integral to her growth.

“There have been people along my journey that have been great sounding boards for me and great mentors that helped me focus my thinking in a way that would be most helpful,” she said. “I try to offer the same for others now as well.”

Walton is a vocal advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Early on in her career, she was hyper-focused on networking and building relationships with like-minded individuals. One organization that had an impact on her early on was Women in Sports and Events (WISE), a leading resource for women working in the sports industry who want to connect and support one another. Walton joined WISE when she landed her first tole in the sports industry at ESPN as a manager of integrated marketing and sponsorships.

“It was great to connect with other women in the sports industry and get tips and tricks on navigating the industry and how to network,” Walton said. “What I love about my experience with WISE is that it did come back around later in my career when I was at Under Armour. I re-engaged with WISE after going out of the sports industry for a while.”

After ESPN, Walton spent four years as at Heineken. There, she parlayed her accomplishments and her connections to her next role at LVMH as the director of brand and integrated marketing for Hennessy. By the time Walton reached Under Armour, where she served as a VP and head of global brand experience, she began serving as a mentor for younger WISE members, and she even brought the organization into some of the work she was doing at the sportswear company. Walton was integral in helping set up a women’s employee resource group at Under Armour, and she brought WISE in to help consult on that with the company’s leadership team.

To this day, Walton keeps her executive coach by her side for guidance because she never wants to stop learning and elevating her expertise. The impact is undeniable. Walton has become an executive whose work speaks for her, even when she isn’t around. Through the years, she’s been offered positions by several notable brands. I jokingly told her she has mastered the art of avoiding the traditional interview process because her strong resume speaks for itself.

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Making Her Mark

Walton’s secret sauce is getting global brands to open up to the idea of authentically bringing diverse voices into their most visible campaigns. She said that she’s shown that having a wide range of perspectives in the room, including the teams doing the work, helps deliver a better product and a greater impact. As she looks back on her career thus far, she cites Hennessy’s rebrand and the NBA’s 75th Anniversary campaign as the two most memorable projects that have integrated that core philosophy.

“I’m not about being extractive or transactional when engaging with diverse audiences. I really believe there has to be a partnership and ability to co-create together,” she said. “I’d like to say I focus on culture because it always has been and continues to be a key element of delivering this impact for the brands I represent.”

Rebranding Hennessy

Walton brought this focus into the work she did on the Hennessy campaign launch in 2012, an expansive advertising and marketing campaign. Walton was charged with relaunching the renowned spirit’s brand to help regain its luxury and lifestyle credentials. To do this, she targeted young multicultural men, a group of consumers she felt would drive Hennessy’s campaigns at the time. And she was right since this rebrand led to key partnerships with the ESPYs, Coachella, the Grammys, and more. Walton also spearheaded Hennessy’s presence on Martha’s Vineyard, a perennial hot spot for the Black community.

“Music, sports, film, and art were key passion points for this audience,” she said. “Going all the way back to Hennessy Artistry and things like that, that was part of spinning up strategies to bring these passion points to life for our target customer and really bring them closer to the brand.”

Walton is also responsible for securing Hennessy’s partnership with Nas, and she led the charge on the brand’s support in the making of his 2014 documentary, Time Is Illmatic.

“I led the partnership of the launch of that with the Tribeca Film Fest, where Time Is Illmatic was the first music documentary to open that film festival, which was historic at the time, and then the national rollout of the film,” Walton said.

Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images

The NBA’s 75th Anniversary

Walton served as the NBA’s VP of global brand marketing and creative between 2020 and 2022, where she led the development and worked on the league’s 75th Anniversary campaign. Growing up in Akron meant even more to Walton to work on this project since All-Star Weekend was in Cleveland that year. Walton was at the center of everything, from coming up with the big strategic ideas to collaborating with all the players to developing NBA Lane.

During this time, Walton worked closely with Devin Booker, LeBron James, and Michael B Jordan. She recalls being on set to shoot one day for the opening sequence of the campaign video and wanting Russell Westbrook to tell his story about fashion. Her team was struggling to connect with him, but while on set, James took it upon himself to call Westbrook up to entice him to participate. Before the end of the day, Russell showed up, and Walton and her team quickly created a vignette that was authentic to him and his interests.

“I think what I’m most proud of is that when I first started at the NBA, we had to beg, borrow, and steal to get the players actually to be a part of marketing campaigns, and by the time I left, they were advocating for one another to participate,” Walton said.

Climbing and Thriving

Walton’s work as the head of global brand, product, and integrated marketing at Amazon Music is her first foray into working with a Big Tech brand. Consumer tech has always been an area she wanted to work in, but she wanted to make the pivot authentically. She joined when the company was looking to rebrand and relaunch Amazon Music. Walton felt like good synergy with the opportunity and said she would not have left the NBA without a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity such as this.

In this new chapter, Walton pulls from what she knows. As with her past stops, she is consistently asking herself how Amazon Music can strategically attract young and diverse audiences and, specifically, how they can do so as authentically as she did working in other industries.

“[At] Amazon, broadly, we are customer-obsessed. At Amazon Music, we’re fan-obsessed. We know that our fans crave a variety of tastes in music and experiences. People might say it’s pushing a lot of water uphill, but I’d say it’s actually not,” Walton said. “I usually get these calls when companies have real business opportunities by reaching young and diverse audiences and showing up authentically with them; it’s going to help move the needle on business results. I don’t find that I have to do a lot of convincing at Amazon Music around what we need to do in the space, whether it’s our year-long support of the 50th anniversary of Hip-Hop, or it is the work that we do with the Latin audience, the K-pop space, you name it.”

Walton said there’s always a willingness to bring different perspectives to the table at Amazon Music, and she said that’s mainly because there are other Black women sitting next to her making it happen.

“In many cases in my career, I’ve been the one and only in the room. And it is nice not to be the one and only and to have people,” she said.

Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Amazon Music

Walton’s Future

In the next decade or so, Walton sees herself retired on a beach, doing a different type of work that fulfills her. She said she’ll continue mentoring, angel investing, and volunteering with the philanthropy-focused organization she’s passionate about.

Young Black professionals looking to climb the ranks at notable brands like Walton, she has one Golden Rule to share with you: treat others how you want to be treated. She said you never know who may open doors for you, and her career trajectory is a true testament to that.

Also, it is important to give yourself room to learn and grow at all points in your career, even if it feels uncomfortable.

“Always strive for excellence, but I think we need to kick this notion of not giving yourself permission to experiment because Black people don’t have the luxury to fail,” Walton said. “We have to be willing to experiment, and we have to find places and spaces that are safe for us to do that for our own growth. And as leaders, it’s important that we create that for the ones coming behind us as well.”

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Michelai Graham

Michelai Graham is Boardroom's resident tech and crypto reporter. Before joining 35V, she was a freelance reporter with bylines in AfroTech, HubSpot, The Plug, and Lifewire, to name a few. At Boardroom, Michelai covers Web3, NFTs, crypto, tech, and gaming. Off the clock, you can find her producing her crime podcast, The Point of No Return.

About The Author
Michelai Graham
Michelai Graham
Michelai Graham is Boardroom's resident tech and crypto reporter. Before joining 35V, she was a freelance reporter with bylines in AfroTech, HubSpot, The Plug, and Lifewire, to name a few. At Boardroom, Michelai covers Web3, NFTs, crypto, tech, and gaming. Off the clock, you can find her producing her crime podcast, The Point of No Return.