Interpublic declines NRA pitch

NRA: Ackerman McQueen operates media arm NRATV
NRA: Ackerman McQueen operates media arm NRATV

Owner of McCann and MullenLowe declines to pitch for controversial US gun lobby's ad account.

The National Rifle Association is holding a pitch for its advertising account after an acrimonious split with Ackerman McQueen. 

Interpublic has declined to participate in the review, according to chairman and chief executive Michael Roth.

Roth said: "There is a review out for the NRA and we're not participating in that. And that's not just coming from me, it's coming from our agencies, you know. Our people don't want to work on an engagement like that."

The previously close relationship between the NRA and Ackerman McQueen broke down earlier this year when the pro-gun organisation sued the agency for refusing to provide in-depth details of how it spends the reported $40m it receives from the NRA annually.

Ackerman McQueen countersued the NRA, with whom it has worked for almost 40 years, claiming that the NRA has defamed the agency. In May, Ackerman McQueen issued the NRA with a notice to terminate its relationship.

Andrew Arulanandam, managing director, NRA Public Affairs, said: "For the record, the NRA did not invite Interpublic to participate in an agency review. No RFP has been issued. At the appropriate time, only a select number of agencies will be invited to participate in the review process. They must meet the highest of creative standards and have a passion for the NRA's unique brand of public advocacy." 

An Interpublic spokesman said the group was approached by a partner asking it to confirm its position on this issue. Interpublic agreed that neither IPG nor any of its agencies would participate in the review.

Last year, a number of brands cut ties with the NRA in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Delta Air Lines stopped offering discounted rates to NRA members, while car-rental companies Hertz and Enterprise ended the reduced rates they offered to members.

The question of whether agencies should take moral stances on which brands to work with has always been hotly debated. In the UK, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO has refused to work with tobacco companies for many years.

But some in the industry have become fatigued with the number of agencies and brands taking moral positions. At Cannes Lions last week, Unilever chief executive Alan Jope said the festival’s organisers specifically asked him not to talk about purpose.

He ignored their request, called his session "Creativity can help save the walruses" to disguise his intentions and used his speech to denounce companies that engage in "woke-washing" – using purpose in their campaigns without backing it up with actions.

Roth said Interpublic has taken "positions as a company with respect to a lot of issues", citing the memo he sent out after the protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to one death and many others being seriously injured.

He was the first ad holding company leader to comment on the violence and – at a time when US president Donald Trump suggested there were "very fine people on both sides" – was clear in his condemnation of the white supremacists.

In an internal memo to Interpublic’s 50,000-strong workforce, Roth said: "Targeting people because of their ethnicity or their religion is something that cannot be tolerated. Just as excluding or disadvantaging anyone, due to any dimension of diversity, is inconsistent with the values of the United States and, in the case of Interpublic, as a company.

"This isn’t a partisan or political issue, it’s an issue of basic humanity and standing up for what is right at a particularly difficult moment. We are counting on all of you to do that, by showing respect for our differences and living up to our commitment to fairness and inclusion."

Investors, employees, competitors and people he did not know contacted Roth after he sent out the note to thank him for taking the position, he said.

Roth continued: "I think of all the things that I do, what I feel best about, it is when we take decisions as a company, and the response I get from both our shareholders and our employees that they want to be associated with a company that has that kind of compass – moral compass in terms of issues."

"And I do believe that companies should take positions because of the DNA of the company and how it's reflected in the market."

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