Immediate disclaimer: This post is not about Donald Trump, Mexico, and his proposed big, beautiful wall. This is about Trump’s use of the PESO model for his campaign communications. PESO divides the promotional mix into the following categories:
- P: Paid media–ads, sponsored posts, direct mail
- E: Earned media–coverage in news media, blogs
- S: Shared media–social media presence
- O: Owned media–content produced and controlled by the subject
Trump has emphasized the “E” and the “S” of the PESO model, earned and shared media, driving a commanding media presence that his rivals have struggled to match. The shift away from the historic dominance of paid media in political communications is key. The “P” in PESO has been the realm of Super PACs, political action committees that are not officially aligned with candidates but allowed to raise money for their own operation and launch communications to support (or attack) candidates of their choosing.
Paid Media. Trump pledged his own money to fund his campaign, but he has not had to rely heavily on such financing due to traditional ads and mailers being unnecessary to introduce himself to voters or keep himself in the public eye. In the meantime, other GOP candidates looked to direct donations and the establishment of supportive Super PACs to fuel traditional paid media. Their overwhelming use of paid media versus that of Trump has failed to improve their fortunes, with the most vivid example being Jeb Bush who amassed a huge war chest and enjoyed a well-funded Super PAC, only to drop out of the race.
Earned Media. Convincing news outlets, bloggers and “third parties” (with the subject and the public being first and second parties) to cover a subject is the essence of earned media. These third parties devote their media “space” to the subject when they believe audiences will be interested. The common descriptor for a subject that earns media is “newsworthy.” The “E” in PESO has been the crux of Trump’s communication strength. While Right to Rise, the Super PAC supporting Jeb Bush, was paying millions for ads, Trump was in front of media audiences without writing such checks. This content is not controlled as it is in an advertisement, which can actually be a plus when reaching a public that tunes out and/or distrusts ads. A prime example of Trump’s ability to earn media was the surprise endorsement from former rival Gov. Chris Christie, crowding out news coverage of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio’s attacks against him in the previous night’s debate.
Shared Media. This category began to emerge in presidential politics with the 2004 race and became a key factor in 2008. In his initial victory, Barack Obama showed a facility with the new communications technology of social media likened to Franklin Roosevelt’s grasp of radio in the 1930s and John Kennedy’s skill in the televised debates of 1960. The ideal for social media is to provide a direct connection to the subject, an opportunity to hear an authentic voice and build community. Donald Trump has accomplished this by being an avid social media user, responding in real time to challenges and threats using his trademark bombast. Trump’s social media presence is a far cry from the soothing words of FDR’s Fireside Chats; however, he confirms and amplifies his earned media messaging and persona with the “S” in PESO, enabling his supporters to share, curate and contribute content.
Owned Media. Content created and disseminated by politicians allows them to express uninterrupted and unchallenged information on their positions and qualifications. Jeb Bush used the “O” in PESO to present policy papers on his website, illustrating his depth of thought on major issues. Like his other tradition-based communications, TV ads, Jeb Bush’s owned media failed to sway voters. Trump has position statements as well on his website; however, his opponents and numerous media commentators routinely criticize him for a lack of specifics. Trump’s emphasis on owned media is reduced given his strength in other areas of the PESO model.
Will Trump’s PESO model boost him to the GOP nomination? Are his unique personality and decades of notoriety the only means to sustain such a PESO model, or could other candidates use this mix as well, either in current or future races?