With a client base comprised of leading corporations like McDonald’s, American Airlines, General Mills and Procter & Gamble, Burrell Communications Group stays on the cutting edge and has a knack for reaching multicultural markets effectively — specifically the African American and youth segments. Celebrating 40 years, it’s one of the largest African American-owned and operated agencies in the country offering full-service marketing and communications.
Here, the agency’s erudite co-chief executive officer, McGhee Williams Osse, talks about the lack of diversity in the advertising industry, why she feels compelled to go around the country speaking on the subject and what she’s learned from the agency’s august founder, Tom Burrell. –yvette caslin
How well are African Americans represented in this advertising industry?
The advertising industry does not have a lot of diversity. Minorities represent only about 3 to 6 percent of the entire industry. The industry is very stagnant in terms of attracting African Americans. It’s such a shame because African Americans are some of the most creative people under the sun. All you have to do is listen to our music, look at our authors and our writing, our impact on fashion and you see how creativity is all around us. But here, in the most creative industry in the country, we are so underrepresented?
Why is it important for you to speak to audiences around the country and convey your message about the advertising industry?
All of us need role models. You never know what you might say that might spark or motivate somebody to greatness. If you can share a story, an experience or give some advice that can help somebody, [that] is what I think we are here to do — to help [others]. I believe so strongly in that and that is my personal motivation. Professionally, I am always trying to interest people of color and draw talent to the advertising industry. There are so many job functions jobs that many people don’t know about in the advertising business.
What is the most useful lesson that you have learned from the agency’s founder, Tom Burrell?
There are many lessons about the business that Tom taught me about creative. He taught me how to evaluate creative and how to have a sense of people. He is one of the best judges of character that I have ever met. The one from Tom that I hold dearest in my heart is the lesson about integrity in everything you do … in dealing with clients, employees, vendors. That is the probably most critical thing in our business, next to creativity.
What social causes do you champion?
Many. Personally, I work with an organization called Medical Wings International. I have done four missions for Haiti and domestically wherever anyone needs help, whether it’s hurricanes or fires. I am also active with an organization called Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research. Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory condition that can attack any organ in the body; African Americans are highly prone to this disease. It is a mystery disease … very often misdiagnosed. I am active with the Chicago Transition Center … which helps middle-aged people “rewire” from a career standpoint. The economy has left so many talented people out of work. The center helps prepare people to return to the work force. Also, I help people identify their personal brand.