NEW YORK: The relationship between the National Rifle Association (NRA), the lobbying group, and Ackerman McQueen, its long-standing agency, demonstrates the complexities that can result for shops with controversial clients on their roster.

Ackerman McQueen has worked with the NRA since the 1980s, and is considered to have exerted a significant influence in enhancing the pro-gun group’s massive increase in status over the last few decades.

But the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida – an event that left 17 people dead – has renewed criticism of the NRA’s position and extended to calls to boycott its partners, including Ackerman McQueen.

“Some agencies believe that all clients have a right to be heard in the court of public opinion,” said Marlene S. Neill, Assistant Professor in Baylor University’s Department of Journalism, Public Relations & New Media. (For more details, read WARC’s in-depth report: Ackerman McQueen, the NRA, and the challenge of controversial clients.)

“However, at the same time, agencies can face serious damage to their reputation if they represent clients the public perceives as unethical.”

United Way of Central Oklahoma is a client of Ackerman McQueen, and has been the subject of pressure among a certain audience of social media users to end its relationship with the agency.

Debby Hampton, President/CEO of United Way Central Oklahoma, argued all its corporate partners are “bound together by a sincere shared desire to build a better community through service to others”.

While sharing an agency with the NRA might court the ire of some observers, Hampton believes United Way can count on support that crosses the partisan divide.

“Our partners and supporters come from across the political spectrum. They are united behind a common purpose to serve our community by mobilising and connecting resources with those citizens who need help,” she said.

Brad Brinegar, Chairman/CEO of McKinney, the agency network, suggested that clients and their shops must, ultimately, have a shared set of underlying values.

“But if you have a stated purpose, you have to live it, or you lose credibility. So if an agency and a client find that their purpose and values are at odds, there’s not much hope for a good marriage,” he said.

“If you believe in a client enough to take their business, you have to defend them in the face of controversy. When you lose that belief, and you can’t stand up for them, you need to part company.”

Sourced from WARC