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As he will tell you himself, Donald Trump owns a lot of things. One thing that almost no one expected him to possess this summer is almost complete control of the presidential campaign conversation. Like him or hate him (I’ve yet to meet someone neutral on Trump), what he’s doing is working in terms of public relations.
A Look at the Numbers
According to the Washington Post, Trump’s announcement that he was entering the presidential race on June 16 resulted in 635,824 mentions that day. In the next month, he attracted more than 7.1 million mentions and captured an amazing 32.5 percent of all the conversations about the announced candidates from both parties. He managed a 46.6 percent share among Republicans, in a field with seventeen announced candidates.
The first Republican primary debates occurred on August 6. Ben Carson had a good showing in terms of PR with 270,532 mentions on debate day. But even this impressive result couldn’t get close to Trump’s 951,429 mentions.
Of course, as we’ve said before, not all press is good press. Are these mentions paying off in terms of political support? Apparently so, Trump is the unlikely forerunner with the latest polls (at the time of this writing) putting him with the support of 22.8% of likely Republican voters, as compared to Jeb Bush in second place with just 11.8%.
How is He Doing It?
His politics and policies aside, there are some things that Trump is nailing when it comes to PR.
Know Your Brand: Trump has been known for his over the top personality since the 80’s and he’s not toning it down for the campaign. And unlike Mitt Romney, the last Republican presidential candidate, Trump is not making any attempt whatsoever to shy away from his wealth. “I have a lot of money,” he said, “much more money than all of them put together, and all their phony contributions put together.” Pure Trump.
Stand Out: Although many of Trump’s positions on issues are similar or identical to those of the other contenders, he talks about them in a way that is completely unique. For example, all of the candidates are in favor of stricter border controls to stem the flow of illegal immigration. But Trump delivers his point of view on immigration with an unapologetic verve that he owns and doesn't back down from. How could a reporter not write about that?
Define Your Enemy: Remember when politicians used to, “respectfully disagree?” Those days are gone, but Trump has completely let go of the pretense of politeness. About former Texas governor, Rick Perry, Trump said, “He put on glasses so people think he’s smart. People can see through the glasses.”
Become the Story: The image below is telling. The story is about a Scott Walker speech regarding his plan to replace the Affordable Health Care Act, but look at the Meta description:
Trump has invaded coverage that should have belonged to Scott Walker and Walker’s not alone. Other candidates are feeling “Trump-creep” as well. I looked at just the titles and Meta descriptions of the first page of Google results for “Republican primary” and found each candidate’s name the following number of times:
Trump – 8
Bush – 3
Walker – 0
Rubio – 0
Carson – 0
Huckabee – 0
Paul - 0
Cruz – 0
I didn’t do the rest, but you see where this is going. The other candidates have been most successful getting coverage when they talk about Trump. Imagine if McDonalds could only get media coverage by talking about Burger King. It's not a good place to be.
It’s a little meta, but the talk of this campaign (so far) is how Trump became the talk of the campaign. To a certain extent it says something about this particular moment in American politics and the mood of the electorate, but let’s not underestimate how much of it is due to deft execution of old fashioned public relations.