What We Do

Connect brands with their audiences.

How We Do It

In person experiences.

Why Us

We take your challenges and treat them as our own. We are seasoned. We are experts. We are creative problem solvers. We have the right connections to pull off just about anything.

And most importantly, we have the business acumen required to deliver creative market-facing touchpoints that tie to your business goals while protecting your bottom line and your sanity.

Our Offerings

A choreographed media network in The Dubai Mall. A national bid to host the Olympic Games with hundreds of touchpoints over a 3-year period. A trade show buildout constructed from our client’s hydraulic and industrial hoses. What do these have in common? They're all custom, creative, business-driven audience engagements. And they all shepherd a brand from strategy through execution utilizing a common knowledge, experience, expertise and thought process regardless of how different the end experiences may be. Every client, every situation, every challenge is unique. So every solution we develop must be uniquely innovative whilst governed by a proven approach.


  • Growth strategy development
  • ROI/KPI criteria definition
  • Partner/sponsor strategy & sales
  • Media/talent strategy & planning


  • Experience concept development
  • Visual concept development & design
  • Message mapping & development
  • Omni-channel communication deliverables


  • Corporate trade shows & events
  • Consumer activations
  • Branded environments
  • City-wide activations

Executive experience. Personal attention.

Arena Partners delivers the ideal mix of executive-level experience found at large firms with the personal attention of a boutique agency. With this combination, we lead brands through the entire journey from identifying and defining growth strategies through to the market-facing touchpoints that bring those strategies to life. John, Gretchen and Graeme each have unique professional backgrounds, that when brought together, deliver the ultimate combination of creative and practical execution tied to real business strategies and goals. Experienced, connected, creative and practical, Arena Partners is the nimble and lean boutique solution for organizations that want to reach their audiences in meaningful ways. We love what we do and we’d like to do it for you.

John Murray

Founder & President

I am driven to help organizations identify and execute opportunities for growth. This passion is what led me to start Arena Partners.

It’s the brands that want to boldly jump into the Arena that I’m drawn to the most. Helping these brands tackle their biggest aspirations is where I excel. And it’s my diverse background that enables me to successfully develop business-minded, results-driven strategies for some of the world’s biggest brands.

My diverse professional background covers service in Marine Helicopter Squadron One—whose primary mission is transporting the President of the United States—a stint as a commercial pilot, an MBA in Marketing and International Business and serving top management for Fortune 500 companies at McKinsey & Company and Accenture.

I took a 3-year leave from the private sector to serve as Chief Bid Officer for the U.S. Bid for the 2016 Olympic Games. Pursuing this truly bold aspiration is one of the proudest moments of my career.

I am also proud to play a role in making my home city of Chicago more competitive, through co-founding the Chicago Sports Commission, helping develop UI LABS, working on the transition teams for Mayor Emanuel and the President of Cook County, and creating & producing the largest New Year’s Eve celebration in the city’s history - attracting 3.5 million television viewers and generating 2.5 billion positive media impressions for the city globally.

Gretchen Donaldson

Partner and Creative Strategist

For more than 2 decades, I’ve had the pleasure of putting my creative problem solving skills to work for a wide variety of brands, audiences and situations—most notably in my role as Founder and former CEO of Culture22.

The diverse nature of my clients and situations has presented me with the opportunity to continually develop new strategies, new concepts, and new solutions for an immense collection of market-facing scenarios.

As a marketer, I have a passion for identifying the authentic core within a brand and packaging it in a way that makes it resonate with its audiences. I’m equally passionate about developing pragmatic solutions; never a fan of unnecessary complexity.

As a client service professional I have a passion for creating long-lasting relationships that make the client’s job easier and more enjoyable, because life is too short to work with people who do the opposite.

As a team leader and avid fan of incredibly talented people, I have a passion for pulling together individuals with unique skills, gifts and quirks who are perfectly suited for the task at hand. I find that when you have the right tools in your toolbox, every job can be highly successful.

Graeme Staunton: MRICS, LEED AP

Partner and Production Lead

As an owner’s representative and seasoned project manager, I find joy in discovering efficiencies and opportunities to bring things to life in a way that saves the client time, money and stress.

I was born and raised in Ireland before attending University in England and eventually starting my career working with a Civil Engineering Contractor in England.

After traveling the globe I set about becoming a Member of the Institute of Chartered Surveyors (MRICS) in Quantity Surveying and started a new career path with Faithful & Gould. Throughout my career at F&G, I worked as both a Commercial and Project Manager in Pharmaceuticals, Manufacturing, Oil & Gas and Retail.

In Retail I had the pleasure of managing the high-profile Nokia Flagship store on Michigan Avenue. It was then that I realized I had a passion for customer-facing experiences. I became the lead Project Manager for all Nokia Global Flagship Stores and Branded Event Spaces. During this time I became LEED certified and my passion for employing lean standards to reduce waste and add value became even more apparent.

I now specialize in retail, hospitality and events. I live for working with owners to establish an increased market presence through managing high profile Branded Projects and Events.

Sara Travis


With a background in marketing, advertising and communication, Sara joined Arena Partners in 2015, where she currently focuses on marketing research and supporting the company’s strategic sponsorship outreach. Sara is a recent graduate of Millikin University, where she received a degree in marketing and captained the women’s varsity volleyball team. During her time at the university, she assisted in developing the Tabor School of Business’ newest marketing campaign and finished top-10 in the International Collegiate Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) Advertising Campaign competition.

A few of the brands we’re proud to have worked with.


"There isn’t a group out there that John couldn’t unite and lead. During the Olympic Bid he served as the hub, pulling together elite athletes, volunteers, vendors and top business and political leaders from across the globe. He has the skill, finesse and charisma necessary to work effectively with the most complex organizations.”

Patrick G. Ryan
CEO of Ryan Specialty Group and Chairman of Chicago 2016

"John has an unmistakable and undeniable passion for helping governments develop strategies for growth. This passion comes through in everything he does in the public sector.”

Mark Angelson
Deputy Mayor for the City of Chicago (2011-2012)

"John comes from a really unique background, including being a US Marine, a commercial pilot, a management consultant and an Olympic Bid leader. That combination of experiences has given him an incredibly unique skill set…he’s able to keep a keen eye on business objectives, inspire teams into action, and deliver experiences with uncompromising artistic integrity. It’s an incredibly effective combination.”

Patrick Moloney
GM of Freeman XP

"John’s innovative thinking and attention to detail are nothing short of remarkable. He quickly comprehends complex issues, takes on the burden as though it is his own, and comes up with unique and innovative solutions to drive results. Throughout planning, preparation and execution, he keeps his eye on every detail while never losing site of the goal.”

Don Welsh
CEO of Choose Chicago


Our name and mission are inspired by one of the most enduring quotes in history:

“It is not the critic that counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt
at the Sorbonne, Paris, 1910


Arena Partners
401 W. Ontario
Suite 225
Chicago, IL 60654

Get in the Arena. Contact us today.