Tom Burrell Becomes the First African American Inducted Into The One Club Creative Hall of Fame

Founded namesake agency in 1971

Tom Burrell retired in 2004 and currently serves as chairman emeritus for his agency. Photo by Donna Alberico / Margarita Corporan Photography
Headshot of Erik Oster

Burrell Communications Group founder Tom Burrell, who has been breaking barriers his entire career, has added yet another one to the list.

The One Club inducted Burrell into its Creative Hall of Fame, making him the first African-American to receive the honor, which dates back to Leo Burnett’s inaugural induction in 1961. Burrell was inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame in 2004.

Recognizing and celebrating the purchasing power of the African-American community, Burrell coined the phrase, “Black people are not dark-skinned white people.” His advertisements for Coca-Cola are recognized for their cultural and historical significance and archived in the Library of Congress.

Burrell began his career in the mailroom at Wade Advertising while still a student at Roosevelt University. The agency’s first black employee, he soon earned himself a junior copywriting position, working on the agency’s Alka-Seltzer and Robin Hood All-Purpose Flour accounts, according to the Advertising Hall of Fame. He went on to work at several agencies, including Leo Burnett and FCB, before founding Burrell Communications Group in 1971.

Burrell retired in 2004 and currently serves as chairman emeritus for the agency, which is now led by co-CEOs Fay Ferguson and McGhee Williams Osse and CCO Lewis Williams. Burrell Communications Group currently counts McDonald’s, P&G, Comcast, Walmart, Toyota Motor Sales Inc., AARP and Hilton among its clients.

In addition to his work in advertising, Burrell is the author of Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority and founded the nonprofit Resolution Project to “challenge and reverse ongoing mass media stereotypes and negative race-based conditioning.”

@ErikDOster Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.