The divorce papers have been filed. The breakup between the National Rifle Association and its longtime PR firm, Ackerman McQueen — the creator of NRATV — is nearly complete.
On Wednesday, Ackerman McQueen served the NRA with a “notice to terminate” its nearly 40-year business partnership with the gun group.
Ackerman McQueen has long crafted the NRA’s public image, whether tapping Soylent Green actor Charlton Heston as the gun group’s ceremonial president, crafting the NRA’s increasingly apocalyptic messaging or staging the its elaborate annual conventions. Following the 2016 launch of the NRA’s streaming service, NRATV, Ackerman McQueen’s billings swelled to more than $40 million a year. NRATV, in particular, has become a source of friction, with many inside the NRA balking at its cost and, at times, outré content, including a segment that photoshopped KKK hoods onto Thomas the Tank Engine trains.
The NRA and Ackerman McQueen have, for weeks, been locked a power struggle for control of the future of the NRA.
In April, the NRA sued Ackerman McQueen for access to financial records. Then, at the NRA’s annual convention, ceremonial NRA president Oliver North, an employee of Ackerman McQueen, allegedly attempted to oust CEO Wayne LaPierre. This led the NRA to sue Ackerman again, seeking $40 million in damages for the PR firm’s alleged role in fomenting the coup attempt and leaking confidential documents, which revealed extravagant expenditures on LaPierre’s travel and wardrobe, as well as eye-popping legal fees billed by the Brewer law firm. Ackerman McQueen quickly counter-sued for $100 million, accusing the NRA of breach of contract and of seeking to transfer its public relations business to the Brewer firm without paying severance costs.
In a statement provided to Rolling Stone Wednesday, Ackerman McQueen stated that the “NRA’s many inexplicable actions” had already “constructively terminated the parties’ Services Agreement” and that the agency had submitted a formal “Notice to Terminate” the partnership.
Ackerman McQueen elaborated that “the NRA’s chaos led us to lose faith in the organization’s willingness to act on behalf of NRA’s mission.” The agency claimed to have been “attacked in frivolous lawsuits and defamed with made-up stories that were then cowardly peddled to the media,” adding that “our employees’ rights to privacy were challenged by a determination to drag false allegations into the public with leaks and innuendo.”
The statement continues:
The intent was to make us afraid. We will never fear the truth. The NRA has been a powerful force to protect the civil liberties of law-abiding Americans. For 38 years we were with them … to serve their mission. The turmoil the NRA faces today was self-inflicted. It could have been avoided. We deeply regret that it wasn’t.
Emails to the NRA seeking comment on the split were responded to by the public relations arm of the Brewer law firm, suggesting that the firm Ackerman McQueen had alleged was after its business may already be on the job.
“Given the scrutiny it is facing in multiple lawsuits, it is not surprising that Ackerman now attempts to escape the consequences of its own conduct,” the NRA’s outside counsel, William A. Brewer III, said in a statement that also reprised the gun group’s claims against the PR firm: “The NRA believes that when confronted with inquiries about its services and billing records, Ackerman not only failed to cooperate — it sponsored a failed coup attempt to unseat Wayne LaPierre. The NRA alleges that Ackerman not only attempted to derail an investigation into its conduct, but unleashed a smear campaign against any who dared to hold the agency accountable.”
Brewer called the Ackerman termination notice “welcome news,” but he underscored that the end of the business partnership “does not resolve the NRA’s legal actions against Ackerman” and that the agency “will be held accountable — in the best interest of all NRA members.”
Andrew Arulanandam, managing director of NRA Public Affairs, added in his own statement that changes are coming to the NRA’s communications strategy. “The NRA is eager to return the focus of its messaging to our core mission, the Second Amendment and our steadfast fight to protect America’s constitutional freedoms,” he said.
Whatever changes are coming to the NRA, they do not appear to include a retreat from politics. “We have an opportunity to elevate our brand, communicate with a broader community of gun owners, and press the advantage in the upcoming 2020 elections,” Arulanandam said.
Neither Ackerman McQueen nor the NRA responded to an inquiries about the future of NRATV.
In litigation, the NRA has described NRATV as the PR firm’s baby — an “experiment” that had been “fervently pitched” by Ackerman McQueen.
The service was still streaming as normal on Thursday.