Angus McQueen, the N.R.A.’s Image Maker, Dies at 74


Angus McQueen, whose Midwest advertising agency was a principal architect of the National Rifle Association’s modern image until the firm had a remarkable falling out with the gun group this year, died on Tuesday in Oklahoma City. He was 74.

Ackerman McQueen, the Oklahoma City advertising company that Mr. McQueen had long led, announced the death. He had had lung cancer.

Mr. McQueen’s death came amid a legal fight between the N.R.A. and Ackerman McQueen that would have not long ago been considered inconceivable.

The two organizations had been so close for nearly 40 years that some of the most recognized faces associated with the N.R.A., including its former spokeswoman Dana Loesch and its former president Oliver L. North, were actually on Ackerman’s payroll, not the N.R.A.’s.

But an N.R.A. lawsuit this year against Ackerman over its billing practices led to infighting within the gun organization and threatened the leadership of its chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, who had been a friend and longtime client of Mr. McQueen’s. Moreover, it divided Mr. McQueen’s family and has put severe financial strains on his company.

Mr. McQueen cut his teeth as a director and producer for NBC affiliates and served in the Nixon administration, where he directed pool coverage of the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach in 1972.

He joined Ackerman McQueen in 1973, a company co-founded by his father, Marvin. After serving as creative director, Angus became president in 1984 and chief executive in 1987, helping to build it from a company of about 25 employees to one of about 250.

He was the agency’s creative director during the original pitch meeting to the N.R.A. The gun group saw Ackerman McQueen as more in sync with its values than ad firms on the East and West Coasts.

Ackerman was deeply involved in developing the N.R.A.’s image over the years. It worked with the actor Charlton Heston during his combative presidency of the organization. It devised the “I’m the N.R.A.” ad campaign, which tried to humanize the group, and featured celebrities like Roy Rogers. It gave Mr. LaPierre’s image a makeover, putting him in tailored suits. And it wrote provocative fund-raising letters warning of “jackbooted government thugs” who wanted to “seize our guns.”

The company also helped turn the N.R.A.’s annual conventions into sprawling gatherings, with this year’s event, in Indianapolis, boasting of 15 acres of guns.

“I speak to Wayne almost every day,” Mr. McQueen said in a 2002 deposition, in litigation brought by the N.R.A. and other groups against the Federal Election Commission. “On numerous occasions, we’ll speak throughout the day,” he added.

Describing how the N.R.A. used advertising to influence voters, he said in the same deposition: “I tell people all the time: No voter is a light switch. No voter is on and off.”

Instead, he likened voters to a dimmer switch “that gets brighter and softer and that throbs throughout the process.”

“And so what you want, when you’re an advocate of the Second Amendment,” he added, “is for the citizenry to become as informed as they possibly can be on the issue.”

Angus Loren McQueen was born in 1944 in Superior, Wis., to Marvin and Mary Louise McQueen. He did not attend college.

As a young man he was a writer and director with the Navy Office of Information in Washington during the Vietnam War. He was later a producer for an NBC television affiliate in Houston directing coverage of the Gemini and Apollo spacecraft missions.

He is survived by his son, Revan, who is the current chief executive of Ackerman McQueen; his daughters Skye Brewer and Loren Zanotti; and seven grandchildren. His wife, Jodi (Hetzke) McQueen, a former model and actress, died in 2013.

Over the years, Ackerman’s major clients included the Chickasaw Nation, for whom the agency developed an Oklahoma travel site that helped steer interest to the tribe. The Integris health care system of Oklahoma was another client. Stan Hupfeld, a former chief executive of Integris, said Mr. McQueen had focused on telling the stories of doctors and patients rather than solely on extolling the system’s technological abilities.

“You have to touch people on a personal basis, and I thought his organization was very skilled at that,” Mr. Hupfeld said.

Mark Keller, a music producer and voiceover specialist who once worked for Mr. McQueen and became a close friend, said, “It’s hard for me to think of anyone else more adept at putting together talented people.”

He recalled collaborating with Mr. McQueen on a campaign for a Texas company, Nocona Boots, that was criticized by environmentalists for magazine ads depicting boot-wearing ranchers battling the likes of rattlesnakes and Gila monsters.

“Big news — cowboys kill rattlesnakes, they don’t protect them,” Mr. Keller said in an interview, adding, “We were just trying to sell some cowboy boots, and it worked.”

Mr. McQueen championed building media platforms for his clients, none more high profile then NRATV, a live broadcasting arm that caused friction even within the N.R.A. for straying beyond gun rights into rightwing politics.

Ackerman’s relationship with the gun group disintegrated over the last year, after the N.R.A. had begun auditing its contractors amid an investigation by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, into the N.R.A.’s tax-exempt status.

By April, the N.R.A. had sued Ackerman, alleging that it had concealed from the organization details about how the company had spent the roughly $40 million a year that the N.R.A. had directed to Ackerman and its affiliates.

Ackerman insiders were shocked by the suit, which was led by William A. Brewer III, the N.R.A.’s outside counsel, who is a son-in-law of Mr. McQueen. Ackerman has contested the allegations, and its allies have depicted the legal fight as an effort to supplant Ackerman’s position within the N.R.A.

Days after the suit was filed, Mr. North led a failed effort to oust Mr. LaPierre, N.R.A. officials have said, though Mr. North has disputed that account. By late June, the N.R.A. shut down production at NRATV and ended its relationship with Ackerman.

Amid the turmoil, Mr. McQueen’s three children issued a joint statement this week. “Our father always reminded us, with unwavering commitment, that family is everything,” they said. “He knew that the love of family could weather any storm, conquer any evil.”

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