A Peek Inside Trump’s Earned Media Playbook

Steve West

Disclaimer: this post regarding Donald Trump’s earned media monopoly is, in fact, earning him more media.

We can’t help but be fascinated by his overt exploitation of the media to support his campaign. However, they finally called foul.

Last Friday, under the guise of an announcement regarding his five-year birther crusade against President Barack Obama, Trump convened all major cable news network to devote their broadcast to his press conference. The press waited, cameras pointed toward an empty stage, with anchors reminding viewers that Trump’s announcement would come any minute. When he finally arrives, he plugs his brand new hotel playing host to the event. Flanked with veterans praising his leadership, he then blames the start of the birther movement on Hillary Clinton, and claims to be ending it, with the full force of the media tuned in.

It was by far his most obvious attempt at coercing the media to follow his narrative. Knowing all eyes were on him, he promoted his business while conveying patriotism, and lobbed a controversial issue to Clinton’s side of the net.

He may have been called out for this round of media puppeteering, but his success at earning their attention is unprecedented and has continued elevating him throughout this election.

The proof is in the data, so let’s look back on a few moments in which Trump earned immense media coverage and the ensuing aftermath.

January 23, 2016

We’re one week out from the seventh Republican Primary debate, the second moderated by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. Trump accused Kelly of extreme bias (amongst other things) during the first debate, which, by the way, was watched by more than 24 million people. He tweets out, declaring she recuse herself from moderating again. The media then spent the next week discussing the issue, with Trump adding fuel to the fire by polling his Twitter followers as to whether he should attend. After much anticipation, and nearly a week’s worth of earned media, he shows up. He earns far more coverage than any other candidate before, during, and after the debate. He carries that momentum into the primaries, which begin 3 days later. By May 4th, he decimates his competition, garnering the most votes in any Republican nominating contest.

Total Mentions Seventh Republican Primary Debate Participants:
iQ Platform, 1/28/16-1/29/16

Trump: 63,477
Cruz: 42,296
Rubio: 30,156
Bush: 22,924
Christie: 20,248
Carson: 13,779
Kasich: 13,535


June 7, 2016

It’s the California and New Jersey primaries. Trump has been the Republican presumptive nominee for over a month, so one would assume Clinton’s primed to take center stage. Securing California and New Jersey would send her over the delegate count needed to win the Democratic nomination. On this day, the first female would become a presumptive nominee for President of the United States. But first, Trump creates a media firestorm by insinuating that a judge overseeing the Trump University lawsuit will show negative bias due to his ethnicity.

The result?

Trump earns 49% to Clinton’s 51% of earned media on primary day; nearly equal press coverage during Clinton’s historic moment.

It’s hard to imagine that Donald Trump did not expect the media to react in either situation. Whether it’s good or bad press, he’s a master at turning attention toward himself, and has thus received a ton of airtime. Earned media and television continue to be the most highly trusted sources of information, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how airtime and negative headlines will correlate come election day, especially now that the media is acutely attuned to his tactics. Make your own assumptions, but we are ready to see what move he pulls next from his earned media playbook.

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