MEXICO CITY—Dallas public relations guru Rob Allyn barely had finalized a contract with the Mexican government to improve its image stateside when he found himself face to face in prime time with his clients’ toughest critics.
They include Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who predicted a long year and tough sell for Mr. Allyn, a longtime Bush family adviser who helped George W. Bush beat Ann Richards in the 1994 Texas gubernatorial election.
Mr. Allyn, who kept his role in the 2000 presidential campaign of Vicente Fox a secret until Mr. Fox’s victory, said Thursday that he’s ready to defend Mexico as a reliable neighbor that does not deserve the new border fences that would come with an immigration bill now making its way through the U.S. Congress.
So far, Mr. Allyn said, his questioners have been fair-minded even in some rough venues. Of Mr. O’Reilly, who would like to see the U.S. military on the border to stem illegal immigration, Mr. Allyn said: “He was interested, he was listening.”
Already, in just the few days since the one-year, $720,000 contract was announced by Mexico’s Foreign Ministry, reactions to Mr. Allyn’s role have been intense, divided and plentiful.
“The phones have been ringing off the hook, and [there’s] the hate e-mail,” said Mr. Allyn. “We have a lot of people who question your patriotism.”
On the flip side, he said, his office has received phone calls from business leaders, politicians and others from California to Texas to New York applauding his promotion of Mexico as a great business partner.
This latest assignment, Mr. Allyn said, is more than just another business contract.
“For me, on a personal level, this is a dream assignment,” said Mr. Allyn, who heads Allyn & Co., which is owned by the Fleishman-Hillard public relations group. “I have gotten so tired of the way people treat Mexico. I believe in the cause, so I love the opportunity to share my views. I’ve held these views for a long time. I relish the opportunity to help in some small way.”
Not a newcomer
Mr. Allyn said he has made more than 100 trips to Mexico over the last decade and knows what he’s talking about. Since helping Mr. Fox become the first Mexican president from an opposition party in 71 years, Mr. Allyn has served as a political consultant to three gubernatorial candidates from Mr. Fox’s National Action Party. All have won, he said.
Other clients of Mr. Allyn’s Mexico-related consulting include American Airlines and Bank of America.
Under Mr. Fox, Mr. Allyn said, Mexico has become more democratic and less corrupt, and it is the United States’ second-largest trade partner in the world. The U.S. sells $111 billion in goods to Mexico every year, he said. But many Americans don’t know that. Yet.
“Periodically, in the U.S. and elsewhere, the pendulum swings . . . in the way we view our neighbors,” said Mr. Allyn. “I think it’s all the more important to stay calm and do what’s right when things turn hysterical.”
“I believe when people understand how important business with Mexico is, the U.S., people in North America will want to build bridges to Mexico, not walls,” he added. Mr. Allyn’s contract also includes promoting Mexico in Canada.
A bill passed by the U.S. House last week would toughen penalties for undocumented workers and employers who hire them. It also would fund more walls along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
It does not include a provision, favored by President Bush, to expand a guest worker program to allow more Mexicans to work legally in the U.S.
Mr. Allyn said such a temporary-worker program would be a step toward making immigration “safe and legal and orderly and controlled.” Immigrants are a valuable source of labor to the U.S., he added.