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
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
’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
The following months found Allyn in and out of Mexico under assumed
names, meeting in safe houses, shredding papers and editing his
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
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
The PRI’s Francisco Labastida and Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, candidate for the
leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), wanted the debate’s
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
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
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
’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
1983: Launches Allyn & Co.