After breaking into the advertising agency business in 1961 at Wade Advertising (Chicago), Tom Burrell quickly worked his way from the mailroom into the position of Junior Copywriter. From there, Tom went on to Leo Burnett (Chicago), Foote, Cone & Belding (London), and Needham, Harper & Steers (Chicago) before launching what is now Burrell Communications in 1971.
With the mantra “Black people are not dark skinned white people”, Tom and his team persuaded leading advertisers like McDonalds and Coca-Cola to use the medium of television and culturally relevant messaging to effectively reach the black consumer. By understanding and highlighting the positive aspects of black American culture, Burrell changed the face of American Advertising. A collection of Burrell’s Advertisements for Coca-Cola is archived at the Library of Congress for its cultural and historical significance. Today, Burrell remains a leading marketing communications firm, noted for its expertise in reaching African- American and urban youth markets.
Over the years, Tom has garnered numerous awards, honors and accolades, including the coveted Albert Lasker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Advertising, DuSable Museum of African American History’s HistoryMaker Award, and the University of Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism.
Advertising Age named Tom one of “50 Who Made A Difference” in its special issue, “50 Years of TV Advertising.” In “The Advertising Century,” issue, the publication designated Tom among the “Top 100 Advertising People” who have shaped the course of advertising history.
Legally blind, Tom was presented with the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2005, Tom was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Fame and more recently the New York Festival’s Hall of Fame.
After “re-wiring” in 2004, Tom became an author and lecturer focusing on media, pop culture, social sciences and American history. His impactful first book, BRAINWASHED: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, continues to spark lively and international conversation on the powerful role media messaging plays in effecting race-related attitudes and behavior. BRAINWASHED received many notable reviews including being named one of the “65 Greatest Books About Race” in Ebony Magazine’s 65th anniversary issue.
Tom graduated in 1962 from Roosevelt University; which later awarded him an Honorary Doctorate Degree of Humane Letters. He is the proud father of three children. He and his wife, Madeleine Moore-Burrell, live in Chicago.