Guns Down America Has a Message for Agencies: Don’t Work With the NRA

Targeted shops include Droga5, FCB and Wieden + Kennedy

In this image from Guns Down America's Twitter feed, and in its open letter, the group calls on major ad agencies to refuse to work with the NRA. Guns Down America
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

This week, Ackerman McQueen made headlines for publicly announcing plans to terminate a 38-year contract with the NRA.

It has been one of the longest and most lucrative agency-client relationships in the ad industry, as the nonprofit group paid its largest vendor $40 million in 2017, according to public records. But the NRA’s statements on the matter called the termination “welcome news” and referred to Ackerman McQueen in the past tense.

Who, then, will take up the torch of promoting the country’s largest gun-rights group in an increasingly fractious political environment?

Nonprofit gun-control advocacy organization Guns Down America wants the answer to be “no one.” The day after the Ackerman McQueen news, it published an “open letter” asking “all major advertising agencies in the United States to refuse to do business with the NRA.” The list of targeted organizations includes creative shops like Droga5, FCB and Wieden + Kennedy, along with PR firms Edelman, Ketchum and FleishmanHillard.

“[Ackerman McQueen] has done a huge amount to change public opinion about guns and the NRA, so as that relationship sours, the argument we’re making is that the policies the NRA advances, and its agenda of ‘guns everywhere for everyone,’ are literally killing people,” said Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America.

Volsky, who formerly served as vp of left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, told Adweek that this effort was “based on the conclusion that as the NRA’s relationship with Ackerman McQueen breaks up, they will need help in fooling the public into believing that looser gun laws somehow save lives, when we know literally all scientific studies show the exact opposite.”

The letter cites one such report published by The Journal of Empirical Legal Studies in collaboration with Cornell Law School.

The full document, embedded at the bottom of this story, bears the names of several prominent gun-control advocacy groups, celebrities and relatives of shooting victims—including Change the Ref, March for Our Lives, Fred Guttenberg and Manuel Oliver. Volsky said many on that list will be publicizing the campaign on social media with the hashtag #BlacklistNRA, and the group hopes some of the agencies in question follow suit.

Volsky said his organization “looked at some of nations’ largest firms” when compiling the list based on the assumption that the NRA would need a sizable partner to manage its media budget.

Adweek reached out to several of the agencies on the list, each of which declined to comment or said they had not yet received the letter in question. The NRA has not yet responded to requests for comment on the initiative; nor has it clarified if it plans to launch a formal search for a new agency partner.

The letter, Volsky said, will be delivered to these companies via direct mail and email; they will also be mentioned in the “big social push.”

One may note that several of the listed shops have promoted other gun-control groups like The Brady Campaign and the Illinois Council Against Gun Violence, and it is unclear whether any agency would welcome the public scrutiny sure to follow the NRA’s next top marketer.

The Brady organization has already cited Droga5’s work, calling it one of the “agencies that are doing things right.”

When asked if some observers might see the NRA and Guns Down America as two sides of the same political advocacy coin, Volsky said, “We are both nonprofits that work in the political arena, but the NRA for a very long time has closely aligned itself with the for-profit gun industry. I would argue we are entirely different animals, even if there are very basic similarities in tax code designations.”

The next phase of this campaign will include asking everyday citizens to sign the letter.

I’m sure the NRA will do what it thinks is best for now in its particular predicament,” said Volsky. “But the goal of the campaign to me is to have corporate America, especially some of largest and most powerful names in PR and advertising, to send a clear message that, in 2019, it is inappropriate to do business with an organization like the NRA.”

Persuading the deeply entrenched players on each side of this debate to reach some sort of legislative compromise is another matter entirely.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.