ANALYSIS: Profile - Allyn: PR pro plays kingmaker in Mexico. While most PR pros spend their free time on the links, Rob Allyn was busy helping overthrow a political system that ruled Mexico for 70 years Sherri Deatherage Green meets the man behind Vincent

Rob Allyn thought he was attending another boring political speech in May 1997, when he gathered with other members of the Dallas Assembly civic group in Monterrey’s planetarium. The politician was Vincente Fox, and his stunning oration surprised and impressed the Texans.

Rob Allyn thought he was attending another boring political speech in May 1997, when he gathered with other members of the Dallas Assembly civic group in Monterrey’s planetarium. The politician was Vincente Fox, and his stunning oration surprised and impressed the Texans.

Rob Allyn thought he was attending another boring political speech

in May 1997, when he gathered with other members of the Dallas Assembly

civic group in Monterrey’s planetarium. The politician was Vincente Fox,

and his stunning oration surprised and impressed the Texans.



Fox, then the strapping governor of Guanajuato, sought Allyn after the

speech to discuss political marketing. During their chat, Allyn became

convinced Fox would become Mexico’s president, but he didn’t know the

role he would play in what he calls Fox’s ’bloodless, democratic

revolution.’



Everyone who’s anyone in Texas politics knows Rob Allyn. He helped most

of the Republicans in office get elected. The 40-year-old runs Allyn &

Co., a dollars 5 million PR, public affairs and political advertising

shop that employs 11 Dallas pros and one Austin operative. Although

candidate-driven politics accounts for less than 20%of revenues, Allyn

is the go-to guy in Texas for public issue campaigns, advocacy

advertising and sharp collateral.





Working with the enemy



Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, a Democrat, is a case in point. At first Kirk

didn’t want anything to do with Allyn during his first nonpartisan

race.



’I was determined not to like him and not to use him because of what he

had done to many of my friends in campaigns,’ Kirk says, with more than

a grain of sincerity. Dallas public affairs guru Carol Reed convinced

Kirk he should work with Allyn instead of against him. After all, Allyn

had helped the previous three mayors win their seats.’Rob is incredibly

gifted, a very, very talented man,’ Kirk now says.



Allyn subsequently worked with Kirk on two issue races, including the

successful campaign to build the American Airlines Center. ’Anytime we

really need to outsource the creative side, we call Rob,’ says Lisa

LeMaster, Allyn’s old boss and head of the LeMaster Group.



Vincente Fox was a man in dire need of creative help. Soon after their

first meeting in Monterrey, Allyn’s clients were getting

background-check calls from Fox’s people, and Allyn set out on the first

of 40 or so trips he would clandestinely make to Mexico over the next

three years. ’There is no professional cadre of political consultants or

advisors in Mexico,’ Allyn explains. ’What they do have is monopolized

by the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party).’ Worried that his

opponents would unduly criticize him for working with an American

adviser, Fox often whisked Allyn away in a bulletproof SUV to talk

strategy. Allyn now laughs about the cloak-and-dagger precautions but

says the fear was legitimate: ’The PRI were watching every move we

made.’



The following months found Allyn in and out of Mexico under assumed

names, meeting in safe houses, shredding papers and editing his

telephone conversations.



He learned Spanish on the fly, testing his new skills while sipping

lemonade with Fox’s mother. One day he would drive his children to

soccer practice, the next he would find himself drinking brandy with

Mexico’s future president.



His firm’s role in the election, which Allyn humbly downplays, centered

on defining and controlling message, honing image and bringing modern

media techniques to a country that hadn’t had a real two-party system in

70 years. Allyn’s firm produced Fox’s earliest pre-campaign commercials,

showing him in jeans and open-collared shirts.



Whether or not to launch a pre-campaign was among the first strategic

decisions. Traditionally, Mexican political races last only six months,

but Fox decided an early start was needed to combat entrenched

power.



Mexicans may not have liked the PRI, but it was all they knew.



Another challenge was broadening the appeal of Fox’s National Action

Party (PAN). Rooted in relatively affluent northern states, PAN favored

Catholic values and big business. The 1998 governor’s race in

Aguascalientes proved an early test of PAN’s political mettle. The party

hired Allyn to work for victorious PAN candidate Felipe Gonzalez.



The charismatic Fox led polls, and his competitors felt the heat after

the first presidential debate.In the second debate he fared less

well.



The PRI’s Francisco Labastida and Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, candidate for the

leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), wanted the debate’s

exposure limited.



On what political pundits would later dub ’Black Tuesday,’ Cardenas

invited the other candidates to his office to hammer out details. Fox

stepped into an ambush debate broadcast live. He looked stubborn,

insisting on a formal debate ’Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!’ (Today!).



The PRI used Fox’s emphatic pronouncement in negative ads. But ad man

Paco Ortis volleyed, turning ’Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!’ into a rallying cry for

change.



Allyn’s cover unraveled in the campaign’s last days, and the PRI

threatened to throw him and his staff in jail if they leaked polling

information.



Reward for his largely unpaid work came on election night when thousands

of Mexicans took to the streets cheering Fox’s victory. ’Just to be a

small part of a major historical breakthrough is more than adequate

compensation,’ he says.



A Southern California native - ’a fact I try to keep secret’ - Allyn

moved to Dallas as a teenager and returned after college. He started his

own firm at 24, and his wife Monica handled the finances. He worked

exclusively for corporations at first, but given his background,

education and passion for Republican causes, politics inevitably crept

into the business. For years, the staff tried to keep corporate and

political clients from running into each other in the lobby. By the

mid-’90s, Allyn & Co. found a happy medium in issue advocacy for clients

like credit union associations and Texans for Term Limits.





And the future?



Allyn plays it coy when asked about his future plans. He has hired a

Spanish-speaking receptionist and an account executive to handle Mexican

reporters and potential clients and plans to open a Mexico City branch

by the time Fox takes office in December. Stressing that he never

advised Fox on domestic affairs, Allyn says his future work for ’el

presidente’ will focus on foreign relations. Fox is in the states this

week to ’carry his vision of 21st century Mexico to the US and abroad,’

Allyn says. His biggest communication challenge now lies in managing the

high expectations of Mexicans who have never lived through a real

political transition.



’There is going to be a new Mexico,’ Fox predicts. ’It’s going to be a

completely different place to do business.’ Rob Allyn will have played

no small part in the transformation.





ROB ALLYN - President, Allyn & Co.



1977: Legislative assistant to Rep. Jim Collins



1981: Mgr. of editorial services, Frito-Lay



1982: VP at Fairchild/LeMaster, also speech writer to Gov. Bill

Clement



1983: Launches Allyn & Co.



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