Speech: Tom Burrell, 2018 Betsy Plank Mentorship Honoree

Bridget Coffing: Alright, good evening everyone, I’m Bridget Coffing, I’m vice chair of the Plank Center Board of Advisors, and it is my very, very distinct honor to introduce our final and very, very special award, as all of them are tonight, but the Betsy Plank Award. And I say special for two very important reasons.

First, because of the very unique, and very significant nature of the award in and of itself, and special because of the very great privilege that I have to introduce two people tonight to this stage. Our very highly distinguished 2018 award winner and honoree, Tom Burrell, founder of Burrell Communications, and Michelle Flowers, founder and CEO of Flowers Communications Group, who will bring Tom up and introduce him shortly. But I wanted to first just mention a couple important words about the significance of this award.

I think you would all know that it is named in honor of Betsy, clearly, and it really is intended to recognize, exemplary professionals who I can only say are in a class by themselves. Certainly everyone we’ve seen tonight, is just that as well. But this award is given only to those folks, who have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to mentoring. Who have had not only a profound impact on others, but in turn those others having nurtured relationships, and having fostered influences within their organizations, within their communities, within the profession as all.

I think it’s really important to note that is award, is not given out annually. And in point of fact, tonight is only the second time that this award has been bestowed. So it has only been conferred once, so tonight’s honoree, joins just one other in this category, and that was the noted Ralph Campagna, who was the founder and executive director of Chicago’s Off the Street club, and he was awarded that in 2016. So a pretty rarefied group of two in this particular category.

Personally it is very, very meaningful for me to share the stage tonight with Tom and Michelle, because I personally intersected with both of them in my professional tenure at McDonald’s. I can only tell you that Tom’s body of work is absolutely extraordinary. That his creative product has been nothing short of precedence setting and that his contributions, and I think this is important to the McDonald’s staff, and often from his own staff, were over time just incredibly gracious and very, very generous.

As it relates to Michelle, her pioneering work in the multi-cultural PR world, has been, I think a very distinguishing factor in her career. It’s absolutely true that when she started Flowers communications Group, agencies that worked in both the African- American, as well as the Hispanic communities, were unheard of at the time.

So I can only say that, along with Tom, she was banner carrier for such an important and significant effort that today is just so widely accepted. So, I would say that distinguished senior leader award of the Chicago PRSA Group, Michelle Flowers is the one to appropriately introduce and bring forth her friend, her mentor, and her colleague, Tom Burrell to share more about his story, and his journey as well. So, Michelle…

Michelle Flowers Welch: I had to bump tradition a little bit and enter on that side. Thank you Bridget for those very, very kind words.

Good evening. Tonight, I am honored to present the 2018 Betsy Plank Mentoring Award to Tom Burrell, whose mentorship played an important role in my career, and so many others who walked through the doors of Burrell Communications Group. I’m delighted to see Faith Ferguson here, McGhee Osee here, Leonard Jefferson here. We were all together and a part of one of Tom’s classes, so I’m sure they can attest to the impact that he has had in their careers as well.

How appropriate that Tom is receiving the Betsy Plank Award, which, as Bridget stated is in a class by itself, just like Tom. Let me share a little bit more about our distinguished honoree.

Tom is the iconic visionary behind ground breaking, award-winning campaigns for such global brands as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Crest, Tide, and many other brands. His pioneering philosophy that black people are not dark skinned white people. I will repeat that, black people are not dark skinned white people. Revolutionized the way advertisers marketed to African-Americans.

Now, while Tom is typically known as an ad man, I’ve always professed that he’s a trailblazer in Integrated Marketing Communications, or IMC. He recognized very early on, the symbiotic nature of advertising and public relations, and embraced, truly embraced whole-heartedly public relations as a part of the marketing mix.

Under Tom’s leadership, Burrell was among the first advertising agencies to from a public relations division, and later a promotion’s division, giving them the powerful tools to create IMC campaigns. Fortunate for me, I was brought in as one of the chief architects for Burrell public relations, and worked directly with Tom to build the division.

Tom modeled what I wanted to become. A successful, principled entrepreneur, who nurtured great talent. Conversations with him were mentoring sessions, and he shared wisdom and insight, that shaped my professional development.

I remember one particular situation, when a client on the advertising side … And Tom, I know you will remember this, because they dramatically cut their creative and media budgets, and the client was in danger of leaving the agency. Tom quickly turned that into a new business opportunity. He introduced his PR division to the client, and we developed an award-winning campaign that kept that client with the agency. His actions in that moment, taught me the power of resiliency, and resourcefulness, that are crucial to success as a business owner.

I can recall many other mentoring moments, conversations, and stories about Tom’s impact on my entrepreneurial journey. However, we’ve got a wonderful video clip developed by the talented folks at Burrell, that captures the essence of Toms pioneering vision, and the many, many live that he’s touched.

Tom, it is with tremendous respect, and deep gratitude that I present you with the 2018 Betsy Plank Mentoring Award. Congratulations, and thank you for all you’ve meant to my career, and the hundreds of others who’ve had the privilege of working with you.

Tom Burrell: I am so, so honored by this recognition, but I have to say, that I am being honored for something that has come extremely naturally to me. I saw Michelle, I ran into Michelle at the Mariano Super Market, and I said, “Michelle, do these people know what they’re doing? They want to give me an award for mentoring.” Then she described to me how I had mentored to her, and once she described it, I said, “Oh, I’ve done that a lot.”

So if it meant being receptive, being responsive, being a listener, being attentive, being empathetic, or some people say empathic, I don’t know whatever you want to say. If it means caring, then I guess I deserve this award, because that’s what I’ve been doing.

So there was that story, then there was a story about another Michelle that we may know something about. My wife just happened to be in the beauty salon after the election of Barack Obama, and ran into the First Lady, and she told her that she was married to me, and she says, “Oh, Tom, oh yeah. He mentored me.” I didn’t know that either.

Then, recently talking to McGee, oh, she considered me to be her mentor, oh. So I get it, I get it, I get it, I get it now. And I hope that that’s the easiest thing that I ever have to do to get recognition, but it hasn’t been true. I’ve done a lot of things I’ve had to exert a lot of effort to do, in order to be recognized, but mentoring is not one of those things. But thank you Betsy Plank Award for this recognition. For recognizing me for being myself. I appreciate it immensely.

After receiving the award and being told about mentoring and see what it’s all about. So I looked it up in a book, and one of the things that I want to point out, is that there were two things that I picked up. That there are two actually prongs of mentoring.

One is the professional one, where you basically work with people on developing their career, and the other one is personal. And the thing that I want to say, is that in today’s environment, where things are really kind of getting kind of twisted and messed up right now, that we really need to focus on that personal part. The part that has to do with the importance of integrity, moral courage, principals, compassion, and if we can take care of those things first, and leave the professional part as a secondary factor, I think we’ll be way much better off.

I understand that I have tremendous power here. That I am the only thing between you, and that front door down there. So I am going to mercifully stop, and allow you to go home. I hope I have said enough to warrant my being up here to receive the award, but the beautiful thing about getting older, as I approach my 80th year on this planet, is … One of the great, great gifts that all of the recipients, and all the people out here will hopefully realize one day, there’s nothing greater than being in a position in life, where you no longer have to speak for yourself.

So thank you very much, Michelle, and all others who have spoken for me. Thank you, alright.


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