Interpublic declines NRA pitch

The holding company declined to pitch for the gun lobby's ad account.

Photo credit: Getty images
Photo credit: Getty images

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

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

"There is a review out for the NRA and we're not participating in that," said Roth. "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 NRA had not responded to Campaign's request for comment before publication.

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

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 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 U.K., 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 organizers 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," or 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 others being seriously injured.

He was the first ad holding company leader to comment on the violence and, at a time when 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," he added. "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.

"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," Roth continued. "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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