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An aptitude test showed the way for a teen-aged Tom Burrell and in the process helped to alter the world of advertising. When Mr. Burrell was in high school, testing found him to be artistic and persuasive. A teacher suggested advertising and he liked the idea. By 16, his career was ordained.

The temptation is to say "the rest is history." But that would be to simplify and deprecate what has been a complex and sometimes arduous voyage.

When Tom Burrell entered the ad world in 1961, the business was almost totally white.

When Mr. Burrell (with then-partner Emmett McBain) decided to open an agency in 1971, the prospects of success for an African-American ad shop seemed slim. With a staff of one and a lack of money (they couldn't get loans), Messrs. Burrell and McBain forged ahead, convinced the black consumer market was their unique selling proposition.

To a large degree, they were right, and although success came slowly, the organization that today is Burrell Communications boasts an agency with a client list that would do most general-market agencies proud.

This is not to say life is without continuing challenges for Mr. Burrell and his company. Burrell recently acquired DFA Communications, a New York-based general market and direct marketing agency, and now on the exploration list are such areas as Hispanic marketing and events and sports marketing, sales promotion and new media.

If today's goals are ambitious, they are hardly daunting to Mr. Burrell, who has in a quarter-century seen his brainchild grow from a two-man operation with one public relations client (a black nightclub paying a $1,000-a-month retainer) to a full-service agency with annual billings of $128 million.

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