Before you run screaming, I promise you won’t read any supportive language for any of the primary candidates nor any information on their positions.
If anyone had told you years ago that Donald Trump would be the front runner in the 2016 primary race, what would you have said?
Now, many months in, somehow the shock factor is at its tipping point. And you can’t seem to get him out of your head. Wherever you turn, you see his face – whether it’s in a negative or positive context – he’s everywhere. All mediums – TV, print, digital, radio – cover him at all hours.
That nonstop 24/7 news cycle demonstrates the power media hold in political races. While it’s no surprise media’s a significant influencer for voters, I considered what Trump has taught me about the role of media and why they may inadvertently make him our next president.
- Despite his comments, social media leads voters to Trump. My colleague Jason Stemm touched on it in February but The Hill had already referred to this primary race as the “social media election” in August 2015. Since campaigning began, Trump’s Twitter following nearly doubled to seven million strong, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 5.72 million, Ted Cruz’s 942,000 and John Kasich’s 250,000. Beyond followers, he’s simply the topic of conversation. In fact, in all but two of the debates Trump saw the greatest volume of tweets of any candidate – Republican or Democrat.
- Headlines are hot and they’re fueling the fury. In our agency’s approach to media relations, we generate enticing headlines to attract media. This race is no different. The media’s appetite for sensational quotes is affecting voters’ understanding of the issues. If Trump wasn’t so aggressive and if media didn’t cover it so much, would we still talk about it? His comments, while outrageous, multiply with every syndication. It’s what media live for. Even Les Moonves, CEO of CBS said “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
- TV is still a political juggernaut. Not to be discounted by marketers, TV continues to show its chops by the numbers it’s pulling in for the debates; and they have Trump to thank. Thus far, more than 160 million viewers have watched the GOP debates. Although March 10th drew 11.85 million viewers (not a huge number), it still represented more than double that of the previous night’s Democratic debate. Trump clearly plays a role in driving viewers, since the debate he skipped was the 2nd lowest rated debate this election cycle.
- Airtime makes a difference. Earlier this week the New York Times proved that ad spending doesn’t necessarily win you a race. According to the story, Jeb Bush more than tripled his ad spending over Cruz, and spent more than 8 times that of Trump. On the flip side, Trump has earned nearly $2 billion of free airtime over the whole campaign, more than twice that of Hillary Clinton.
- Controlling the conversation keeps you top of mind. This race has easily set the bar for leveraging earned media to maintain relevance and share of voice. Despite making outlandish comments during debates, Trump still draws an even greater media focus the following day. In fact, after what media called February 25th Marco Rubio’s best debate, more than half of Google’s articles the following day contained Trump’s name in the headline. An assistant professor quoted by KUT.org said, “Trump provides drama and outrage, which satisfies the audience’s expectation of entertainment.” Is that audience the voters? Or the media?
So by now you’ve read enough about Trump from me, so to conclude my post, I’ll leave you with the following quote from Marco Rubio, made just under two weeks before he dropped out of the race.
As Sen. Marco Rubio pointed out on Face the Nation last Sunday, “Many in the press want [Trump] to be the nominee. They think it’s going to be good for ratings… If Donald Trump were to ever become the nominee, immediately the hounds of hell will descend on him, tear him apart.”