The NRA and Ackerman McQueen: One of the Strongest Relationships in Adland

Oklahoma Ad Agency's Worked With the Pro-Gun Association Since the 1980s

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While the tenure of many agency-client relationships are shrinking, here's one that's 30 years old and still going strong: Ackerman McQueen and the NRA.

The Oklahoma ad agency has been the agency for the gun-rights group since the early 1980s -- making it one of the longest-running collaborations in advertising history. A piece on the relationship was a Public Radio International feature this week.

Ackerman McQueen's roots are at the George W. Knox advertising agency. In 1954, Ray Ackerman bought the shop from Mr. Knox, and in the early 1970s, he was joined by the father-and-son team of Marvin and Angus McQueen.

As the story goes, when Harlon Carter, a top exec at the NRA in the early 1980s, decided to hire an outside agency, it came down to which shop knew its way around a firearm. The group picked Ackerman McQueen because some of the bigger Madison Avenue shops "didn't know which end of the gun the bullet came out of," according to a biography of Mr. Ackerman, died in October.

In the ensuing years, Ackerman McQueen supported the NRA through various controversies. But the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December has placed more pressure on the group than ever, as gun-reform legislation has come back into the spotlight.

NRA ad
NRA ad

For about a week after the Newtown, Conn., shooting, the NRA stayed quiet -- removing itself from social media and declining to comment to the press. But with the help of Ackerman McQueen, the interest group came back with a full-court press, blaming the Sandy Hook killings on video games and movies. They also released ads suggesting that President Barack Obama is attacking the Second Amendment.

Ackerman McQueen is now promoting the NRA as a female-friendly organization. On social media, the group claims there are "27 million armed and fabulous" women in the U.S.

According to Washington Post's Peter Finn, who has covered the NRA and spoke to PRI for its piece, the agency-client relationship is unique because Ackerman McQueen is actually embedded with the NRA; several staffers sit in the NRA's offices.

Today, the 72-year old agency calls itself a full-service advertising and production shop. It has five locations and a digital unit based in Dallas. The NRA is easily the biggest -- and likely most profitable -- account on its roster. Others clients include local casinos, the Oklahoma State Fair and the United Way.

Here are a few more tidbits about the Ackerman McQueen.

  • According to the Ad Age DataCenter, the agency reported 2012 revenue of $37.6 million.

  • The wife of NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre once worked for Ackerman McQueen subsidiary Mercury Group.

  • Last April a statue of Ray Ackerman was erected in Oklahoma and dedicated to him as "Old Man River," his nickname.

  • Many clients haven't seemed to mind the NRA's presence on the agency's roster. Ackerman McQueen has worked with children's educational company LeapFrog and even won Effies for the work.

  • According to its Twitter feed, Ram Truck "Farmer" ad was its favorite Super Bowl spot this year.

  • The staff trims the office Christmas tree together and seem to be crushing hard on "Mad Men" star Christina Hendricks.

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