Decade after decade, these provocative broadsides have been a product of one of the longest collaborations in the history of advertising, and they have all originated from the same advertising and public relations agency, Oklahoma City-based Ackerman McQueen, and its subsidiary in Alexandria, the Mercury Group.
Ackerman McQueen has managed the NRA’s image and helped fight its political wars for more than 30 years. The ad agency played a pivotal role in its transformation from a sportsman’s group to one of Washington’s most powerful lobbying organizations, shaping a message rooted in uncompromising combativeness, securing its influence inside the NRA and reaping millions of dollars in contracts.
The agency’s mission has perhaps never been more important than it is now. With the issue of gun control thrust back into the public spotlight by the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., and Obama’s repeated pleas for Congress to act on new regulations in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, the NRA is under attack again.
As it has in other times of crisis for the organization, Ackerman McQueen is scripting a counteroffensive.
“They are very effective at what they do,” said Warren Cassidy, a former executive vice president of the NRA. “They have refined a message that is able to strike hard.”
In addition to honing an unyielding public message, Ackerman McQueen has fought in the NRA’s sometimes pitched internal turf battles, pollinated the group with its own people and earned tens of millions of dollars for its services, according to public records and former NRA executives.
The agency has been instrumental in the rise of Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president. The unprepossessing and introverted LaPierre was transformed into the bespoke and unyielding face of the group under the tutelage of Ackerman McQueen, said Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist.
“Wayne LaPierre couldn’t have given a speech 25 years ago to save his life,” Feldman said. “Now he gives a very effective speech to the NRA membership. It’s a testament to how effective Ackerman McQueen is. And it’s a testament that education works.”
Angus McQueen, the chief executive officer of Ackerman McQueen, declined an interview request for this article. The Mercury Group and the NRA did not respond to repeated requests for comment.