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Donald Trump is the King of Earned Media

Donald Trump’s dominance of earned media is huge . No one else even comes close.

Yes, the President of the United States gets lots of news coverage regardless of who occupies the Oval Office. But the Trump phenomenon is much more than that. It’s a beast that feeds upon itself to get ever larger—stories about him get clicks, so media run more stories about him, which get more clicks, ad infinitum. (Did his name in the headline get you to read this post?) Throughout the primaries and the campaign leading up to the election, his opponents raised and spent much more money on advertising and conventional campaigning. Trump didn’t have to. He just kept talking and tweeting and both his supporters and detractors ate it up.

We’ve covered the difference between paid, earned, shared and owned media coverage in this space before, so as a refresher, I’ll just remind you that earned media is any coverage that you neither created nor paid for. In January, Donald Trump received the equivalent of $817 million in earned media coverage, according to mediaQuant, a firm that counts all mentions of a person or thing in traditional and new media and then comes up with an estimated dollar-figure for what that kind of coverage would cost as paid advertising.

In January, Trump received an estimated $817 million in coverage . By comparison, over the last four years of his term, Obama averaged between $200 million and $500 million in monthly earned media. Hillary Clinton’s coverage peaked at $430 million, and that was in July when the Democratic National Convention took place.

To demonstrate just the bigliness (that’s a word now, right?) of Trump’s earned media dominance, mediaQuant totaled the coverage for the world’s top 1,000 personalities, excluding Trump and Obama. The list includes both Clintons, Tom Brady (heading into his fifth Super Bowl victory), the ubiquitous Kardashians, everyone’s favorite oligarch Vladimir Putin and the Pope. The ad value of those 1,000 instantly recognizable names totaled only $721 million, or to put it another way, their collective star power is worth almost $100 million less in combined coverage than Trump alone.

This is not to suggest that your brand or personality will ever be able to trump the coverage that our current President has achieved. You have to remember that he’s been working at this since long before his first episode of The Celebrity Apprentice aired or anyone had conceived of Twitter. But his success at becoming the most famous person in the world does offer some lessons on the power of earned media and why it is an essential element of any successful communications strategy.

An interesting corollary to Trump’s position on top of the earned-media mountain has been the rise of “fake news” and its impact on earned media. In February, mediaQuant found that banking reform, terrorism and national security were the only topics to draw more coverage mentions than fake news. The estimated value for that coverage was more than $270 million.

How earned media continues to evolve in the age of “alternative facts” will be interesting to watch. Maybe we’ll finally find out if the old PR adage that all publicity is good publicity is true or not. In the meantime, marketers should continue their efforts to keep getting their brands coverage. And make sure that includes social media, as well.

A recent study by Simply Measured found that earned social media—“a conversation about your brand that wasn’t started by you”—drives 3.8 times more traffic than anything you do on your own. And while you can’t control earned social media, when such conversations do occur, you can use your own channels to amplify them, in much the same way you promote your traditional earned-media coverage.

As the trajectory of Trump’s rise has shown, maximizing earned media takes time and relentless effort, but the payoff can be huge.