McGhee Osse of Burrell Communications describes how powerful narratives shape good marketing

After being awarded the Missouri Honor Medal by MU, McGhee Osse speaks on effective advertising and storytelling’s impact on marketing.

In her bright red handkerchief and flowing white button down, Burrell Communications co-CEO McGhee Osse stands at the podium, Kaldi’s coffee in hand, as she prepares to speak before a packed room of journalism students in Fisher Auditorium.

Burrell Communications is one of the largest multicultural marketing firms in the world. Over the company’s past 40+ years it has consistently worked to reach audiences that were not being represented or served in advertising. Former CEO Tom Burrell founded the company with the intention of finding a niche within the African American consumer. His company’s mantra at the time was simple: “Black people are not dark-skinned white people.”

This concept is what leads Osse to speak on behalf of her company as the recipient of the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in journalism, awarded to Burrell Communications by MU.

Osse explains in order to effectively reach an audience, future marketers must strive to make a genuine connection with audiences that resonate with their culture and uphold their traditions. They cannot just market to all audiences with the same voice. Instead, by drafting powerful narratives with strategic storytelling, the marketers of tomorrow can captivate an audience.

For example, the nonfiction novel “Significant Objects” details the accounts of a study on human behavior where a variety of thrift store trinkets, totaling $128.74, were sold for around $3600 using creative writers to come up with short stories for each. This, Osse claims, demonstrates the inherent power that compelling stories can have.

“Narratives, powerful narratives, narratives that create emotion drive value,” Osse said. “They bring value to the conversation.”

However, that’s only half of what’s needed to effectively craft a message. The other part of good marketing relies on having good insights.

Brand bridging, or the middle ground between the values of a company looking to advertise a product and the values of the target consumer audience, depends on this concept. Good insights are the small details, the tiny nuances that drive narratives and enable advertisers to tap into the desires of a community.

At Burrell, marketers do this through a process called positive realism. They focus on depicting a group of people in a manner that is authentic, respectful, relevant and most importantly aspirational. The focus is on understanding what people strive for and to tap into something that resonates with people.

This is highlighted in one of the company’s ad campaigns: “My Black is Beautiful.” In partnership with Procter & Gamble, Burrell worked to promote and redefine black beauty following a report that African American women felt they were negatively portrayed or represented in the media. The program experienced massive success according to Brittny Pharr, account director of Burrell Communications, and continues to grow as the largest online community for African American women.

By finding the values of the brand, in this case, promoting beauty in the African American community and connecting them to an audience that feels unrepresented in media, the company was able to effectively draft a narrative that tied into the feelings of its target community.

“It’s not only what you want them to think, what you want them to do, but how you want them to feel,” Osse said.

Edited by Ben Scott |

Share: Facebook / Twitter / Google+

Article comments


This item does not have any approved comments yet.

Post a comment

Please provide a full name for all comments. We don't post obscene, offensive or pure hate speech.