Black History Month Spotlight: Thomas Burrell


Thomas Burrell, often referred to as “The Dean of Black Advertising” is among the World’s most dynamic pioneers in advertising and marketing. In 1971, the African American market and buying power soared. He founded Burrell Communications Group to fill the need for advertising tailored to this growing market. Some of his most noteworthy and long-time clients include Coca-Cola and McDonalds. Burrell Communications Group grew to become the largest African American-owned advertisement firm. He was awarded the Albert Lasker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Advertising in 1986. He also received the prestigious Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism in 1990. Burrell was a pioneer breaking barriers in the media industry. For decades, he challenged the status quo fighting for industry diversification. He pushed for the opportunity for African-American agencies to gain general market accounts. By the time he left the firm, the French agency “Publicis Groupe” owned 49% of the company. He sold the majority shares of the company to his managers, retaining its African American ownership.

His advertising philosophy acknowledged the economic strength of African American communities and their youth, emphasizing the importance of understanding the uniquely beautiful cultural characteristics of these communities. This made him one of the most successful African American advertising executives in American history.