Burrell Communications Group

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Burrell Communications Group
Founded1971 (1971)
FoundersThomas J. Burrell, Emmett McBain
HeadquartersChicago, Illinois, USA
Key people
Fay Ferguson, McGhee Osse, co-chief executive officers
Lewis Williams,
chief creative officer

Burrell Communications Group L.L.C. is an American advertising agency. Founded by chairman emeritus Thomas (Tom) J. Burrell, and headquartered in Chicago, IL, Burrell Communications is one of the largest multi-cultural marketing firms in the world. Some of the company's work is part of a collection in the Library of Congress.[1] Burrell Communications is now under the leadership of co-chief executive officers, Fay Ferguson and McGhee Osse and chief creative officer, Lewis Williams.[2]


Burrell Communications was founded in 1971, by Tom Burrell and then partner, Emmett McBain, and was originally named Burrell McBain.[3] The company was established with the intention of forging an authentic and respectful relationship with the African-American consumer, and to tap into how the black aesthetic could also appeal to the general market consumer. It was at this time that Burrell coined the phrase, "Black people are not dark-skinned white people." Recognizing that there existed inherent cultural differences, and the fact that these differences drove patterns of consumption, became a driving force and inspiration for future ad campaigns at Burrell.

1971-73—Burrell McBain quickly establishes itself as a leading shop for niche African American -focused communications. Beginning with the creation of the Black Marlboro Man for Philip Morris, accounts quickly expanded to include marquis brands McDonald's and Coca-Cola.[3]

1974—Emmett McBain leaves the agency, and it is renamed Burrell Advertising[3]

1975-80—Burrell's business grows steadily, garnering acclaim in particular for their work on The Coca-Cola Company and McDonald's campaigns. The Coca-Cola commercial entitled "Street Song" wins Burrell its first Clio Award.[4] By 1979, Burrell tops $10 Million in billings per annum, making it one of the most successful multi-cultural advertising shops in the United States.[3]

1981-83—Burrell Advertising picks up Martell Cognac and Stroh's accounts. The McDonald's "Double Dutch" Commercial in particular gains national attention and gains a Gold Award at the U.S. Television Commercials Festival.[5] Agency billings climb to $20 Million annually.[6] In order to accommodate increased needs for their Coca-Cola account, Burrell opens a new office in Atlanta, GA.[6]

1984- 86—Burrell Advertising gains the Procter and Gamble account. Their work for Crest Toothpaste becomes the first major packaged goods account to target an African American consumer audience. Burrell agency billings surpass the $50 Million per annum mark.[3]

1987-90-- Burrell gets the Polaroid account, and gains new campaigns on Procter and Gamble's Tide, and Kraft Foods Stovetop Dressing.[3]

1991-96-- The agency is renamed Burrell Communications. Alma Hopkins is named CCO, while Sarah Burroughs is named President. Burrell Communications is awarded the Grand Effie by the American Marketing Association for its work on "Who Wants," a spot created for the Partnership for a Drug Free America.[7] Burrell garners new clients including Nynex, Mobil, Nabisco's A1 Steak Sauce, Maxwell House Coffee and Sears. Agency billings top a record-breaking $128 Million per annum.[3] Burrell acquires DFA Communications, a general market advertising and direct marketing agency based in New York, adding direct marketing expertise as well as a New York presence.[8]

2000-01—Burrell sells a 49% minority stake to French media giant Publicis Groupe in order to fund its expansion.[9] Burrell Communications gains Toyota, Hewlett-Packard and General Mills as its clients.[10][11]

2002—Burrell Communications is named Black Enterprise's Advertising Agency of the year [12]

2004—Tom Burrell announces his retirement. Fay Ferguson and McGhee Osse purchase the 51% majority stake, becoming Co-CEOs of Burrell Communications.[13]

2005 – Burrell is named African-American agency of record for Allstate.[14]

2006—Lewis Williams is welcomed as CCO at Burrell.[15] Co-CEO Fay Ferguson is named Chicago Advertising Woman of the Year.[16]

2007—Burrell launches Toyota Camry's highly successful "If Looks Could Kill," the first digital campaign of its kind to target African American women.[17]

2009—Burrell garners the American Airlines account and launches American Airlines "Black Atlas." Toyota launches Burrell's Toyota Venza "Faces" as its featured Super Bowl spot.[18]

2010--Burrell launches Threshold Nation, a subsidiary dedicated to marketing toward the multi-ethnic urban male.[19]

2011—Burrell Communications is named Black Enterprise's Advertising Agency of the Year [17] and adds Comcast to its list of clients[20]

2013—Burrell launches Rising Tide, a Tide-sponsored aspirational social network for millennials looking for professional access. The program features hip-hop media mogul, Russell Simmons, sharing his wisdom with the young, professional audience.

2014—Burrell scores a major win the 2013 Toyota Avalon Only The Name Remains campaign, starring Academy-Award nominee Idris Elba. The campaign won a Gold National ADDY Award, an Official Webby Award Honoree, and was listed as the FWA Site of the Day.


McDonald's, Comcast, Procter and Gamble, General Mills, SuperValu, American Airlines, Toyota, Lilly and Disney's Dreamers Academy


  1. ^ "Coca-Cola Company donates its collection of Black advertising by Burrell Communications Group to Library of Congress". Jet Magazine. October 20, 2003. Retrieved March 31, 2012.
  2. ^ "Our Leaders". Burrell Communications Group. Archived from the original on September 19, 2012. Retrieved March 31, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Fawcett, Adrienne W. (June 3, 1996). "Burrell at 25, A Commemorative". Advertising Age.
  4. ^ Chambers, Jason (2009). Madison Avenue and the Color Line: African Americans in the Advertising Industry. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 24.
  5. ^ "Double Honors". Jet. December 27, 1982. Retrieved March 31, 2012.
  6. ^ a b Fawcett, Adrienne W. (June 3, 1996). "BURRELL AT 25:A COMMEMORATIVE". Advertising Age.
  7. ^ Stuart, Elliot (June 8, 1994). "THE MEDIA BUSINESS: Advertising; An anti-drug public service campaign wins a prestigious prize for advertising effectiveness". New York Times. Retrieved March 31, 2012.
  8. ^ "Burrell Communications Group". Advertising Age. September 2003. Retrieved June 12, 2012.
  9. ^ Valcourt, Josee (October 1, 1999). "Burrell Communications sells 49% of firm to Publicis Will black ad agencies have to merge to stay alive?". Black Enterprise. Retrieved March 27, 2012.
  10. ^ "Toyota Announces Partnership With African American Advertising Agency". PRNewswire. Retrieved May 24, 2012.
  11. ^ Brown, Monique R. (June 2002). "Born to transform: the Burrell Communications Group bursts out of the ad agency box to become bigger, better, and bolder - B.E. Advertising Agency Of The Year - Company Profile". Black Enterprise. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
  12. ^ Finkelman, Paul (2009). Encyclopedia of African American history, 1896 to the present: from the age of segregation to the twenty-first century, Volume 1. Oxford University Press. p. 317.
  13. ^ Hughs, Zondra (July 27, 2011). "Burrell Communications Celebrates 40 Years". Rolling Out. Retrieved April 2, 2012.
  14. ^ "Burrell Communications Wins Allstate African-American Account". Business Wire. August 3, 2005. Retrieved June 13, 2012.
  15. ^ "Burrell names Lewis Williams new Chief Creative Officer, replacing Steve Conner". Target Market News. April 10, 2006.
  16. ^ "Burrell Communications' Fay Ferguson named Advertising Woman of the Year". Target Market News. May 24, 2006. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
  17. ^ a b Alleyne, Sonia (June 2011). "Growth By Reinvention". Black Enterprise. Retrieved April 2, 2012.
  18. ^ Tedesco, Richard. "Toyota Ties Events to Venza Spots in Big Game". Promo. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
  19. ^ "Burrell Communications(TM) Launches Threshold Nation(TM)". PR Newswire. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
  20. ^ "Comcast names Burrell Communications African-American agency of record". Target Market News. March 8, 2011. Retrieved June 14, 2012.