5 Ways Trump is winning at media

Like a car crash all over the front-page news, we just can’t look away. It’s fascinating to examine international interest in the current US federal election. While many American’s can’t see it beyond their own borders, the results actually matter a lot to rest of us, given the role America has always played on the world stage. There’s something about having a major shift possible and not getting a vote that stirs us up. Too bad it’s not Thanksgiving south of the border already where I could ruminate in past tense about this with my American relatives. We’re eating turkey up here this weekend in Canada, and we’ll no doubt be glued to the TV and online come Sunday October 9, at 9pm Eastern. That’s when the second Presidential debate goes down.


As far as riveting reality TV goes, it doesn’t get much better. Have a think on that statement, and just how far we’ve fallen…

Up front full disclosure: I’m not a Trump fan. While both candidates come with issues and baggage, in the grand scheme of political stability and international affairs, there can really only be one safe choice. But while I’m not a fan, I do think Trump is playing the media game well. In fact, he’s winning on that front. Here’s why:

1. Disruption: Trump is not conventional trying to preserve the status quo. And he’s not conventional in his presentation – what he says and how he says it. He’s disruptive and constantly breaking the rules. To his disenfranchised change hungry base, this is like a T-Bone served up daily. His disruption earns him an exorbitant amount of free media.

2. Earned media: Nobody understands the power of media and public perception quite like Donald Trump. The Apprentice made him a reality TV star. And he’s long been a tabloid king with his various real estate deals and bankruptcy battles. But it’s how he leverages that earned media that makes him a star. He puts it out on his owned channels (website, blog, email), then broadcasts it through rented channels (social media) and incites followers and foes to rebroadcast it even further through their private channels.

3. Audience: Trump had celebrity status before he even ran for office. He has 12.1 million followers on Twitter (Clinton has 9.4 million), over 11 million likes on Facebook (Clinton has 6.7 million), and 2.6 million followers on Instagram (Clinton has 2.3 million). While Clinton certainly has impressive numbers, Trump has a broader reach through his own direct channels. Trump stages events. He also stages his entrances. He plans bigger events. After years in the news, and involved in TV production, he literally orchestrates his airtime.

4. Simple message: Trump is the master of the branded tag line and sound bites that are media friendly. The statement, “Make America great again” is simple, and hard to disagree with. Whether the American dream is coming back again any time soon really doesn’t matter, but the promise that it might does. While there are some that would argue his conversation threads wander, and are often filled with lack of concrete knowledge, the guy gets the sound bites. In a world of 10 second videos and 140 character tweets, he has mastered delivering headlines and news that gets rebroadcast countless times over.

5. Engage emotion: Trump is a divisive and extreme candidate. You either love him or hate him. Like the candidate himself, there is little grey ground and room for conciliatory views. Trump evokes emotion. And he engages that emotion for media gain. His complaints about unfair coverage and being trashed by elites fuels further appeal to his angry voting base. We know from research that humour drives instant engagement, and often provokes sharing. While some of his humour is very dark (anyone catch that clip where he encouraged the terminally ill to go to advanced polls?) he does manage to keep things light and laughable often. But curiously a recent TNS study notes that humour alone may not sustain sharing. To provoke longevity, they found that going deeper was essential. Hope and pride were found to sustain conversations and sharing more so then humour. Friends, nothing screams, HOPE and PRIDE more then “Make America great again”.

While I want desperately to be wrong about how well Trump maneuvers the media, I have to admit he is winning the marketing side of this media game. Let’s just hope America votes with their heads and not their hearts. From what I know about marketing, that is likely the scariest observation of all.


For those that are wondering about the awesome photo accompanying this story and Googling the station PFN, where it was broadcast, here’s the scoop. I generated the image using PhotoFunia, a very cool APP that allows you to drop your own photos into set templates. After doing a little Photo manipulation on the tag line, I generated an image made to grab attention, be timely, and increase the likelihood of sharing and commenting – in short, some fun media and marketing!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Leave a message below or feel free to share and comment on your social networks. Regardless of the outcome in November, we can learn a lot about media and marketing by following this campaign.




Mary Charleson


  1. Of course I wrote this piece the morning before the Washington Post broke the story about the vulgar groping women audio, and now we have the increased calls from within his party to step aside. The guy has been like Teflon up until now with nothing being able to stick to him for long, but this might be his downfall. Of course the media release of the recording is strategic right before the 2nd debate this weekend. Still, to his supporters there is a reason why his media dominance has been so seductive, and that’s what this piece explores.

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