Ask anyone in town for the name of the premier political consultant in Dallas and you'll get two names: Carol Reed and Rob Allyn. Since their offices are on separate floors of the same building on McKinney Avenue, and since they often find themselves in competition, you might assume that there's a war going on in the stairwell. Your assumption would prove false, at least most of the time.
We've all heard much about political consultants, but what do they actually do? "I consider myself a general contractor," Reed says. "I help design the blueprint and then take that blueprint and make sure that everything gets done on time and according to plan. I set the budget, hire the subcontractors and then make sure that they do their jobs well and according to budget.
"I may be the one who makes the trains run on time, but Rob's great gift is his ability to translate a plan into a message and then deliver that message in the most effective and motivating way."
The two may be competitors, but they often hire each other for big projects, and while their relationship stops well short of that of James Carville and Mary Matalin, there appears to be a genuine friendship behind the scheming, bare-knuckle intensity that attends big-time politics. There's also mutual respect, collegiality and, at times, just the faintest whiff of Oedipal drama between the one-time mentor and her former protégé.
"In politics, truth is always one of the alternatives," Allyn deadpans. "And one of the things that I admire most about Carol is that she tells the truth to her clients." Here's what Reed has to say about Allyn: "As gifted and creative a writer as Rob may be, his biggest strength is his focus, his ability to stay on message for his clients."
Most of these clients are Republicans, and the same can be said of most of Reed's clients as well. Two notable exceptions: Reed handled Democrat Ron Kirk's mayoral campaigns as well as his run for the U.S. Senate, while Allyn helped Laura Miller become and remain mayor, defeating Reed's client Tom Dunning in the race to complete Kirk's term. Allyn also helped the mayor best Mary Poss (not Reed's client) in the election for a full term in the nominally non-partisan office. Aside from these walks on the political wild side, the two consultants have, between them over the last 20 years, worked for virtually every major Republican office holder in the state, as well as the two Presidents Bush and President Reagan.
Reed and Allyn are now working together to help pass the bond issue that would move the Dallas Cowboys to Arlington, a campaign spearheaded by Allyn. "I fought as long and as hard as I could to bring the Cowboys to the Cotton Bowl," says Reed, a former president of Friends of Fair Park. "After we lost that fight, I decided that I might as well take the money." Both predictably but probably accurately express optimism that the bond issue will pass.
The Dallas Cowboys campaign is emblematic of the consultants' involvement with lucrative clients and causes that are political but only quasi-governmental in nature: bond issues. The two have worked together successfully on referendum campaigns for the American Airlines Center and DART. Reed's solo victories include the Trinity River project, the 2002 DISD bond campaign and many bond campaigns for Dallas County, while Allyn's résumé boasts of successful campaigns on behalf of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts and the Houston Metro.
One distinction between the two is that while Reed does business in other cities, her heart seems to be in Dallas, while Allyn casts a broader net, with offices in Austin, Phoenix and Mexico City. Allyn's international clients have included Mexican President Vicente Fox and Prime Minister Perry Christie of the Bahamas, as well as political parties and causes in Asia and the Middle East. Reed, on the other hand, has been extremely active in Dallas civic affairs, serving, among many other offices, as chair of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, president of the Dallas Rotary Club and on more than two dozen civic and charitable boards.
"A genuine difference between us is that while I certainly do work outside of Dallas, my community involvement keeps me focused here, while Rob actively seeks more national and international projects," Reed says.
Allyn, who sold his company in 2002 to Fleishman-Hillard, a public relations firm with offices in more than 100 countries, agrees. "We've always treated politics like a business," he says. "By definition, this approach also works for corporate clients. Our new affiliation gives us leverage and support to pursue business all over the world."
Meanwhile and for both, as long as there are elections, they plan to plan them.
"Corporate clients offer a challenge and pay the bills, but once politics is in your blood it remains your passion," Reed says. "You can go to rehab, but you're hooked forever."