Tuesday, January 19, 2021

6 Additional Media Trends for 2021

Of course the biggest story in 2021 will continue to be COVID-19 pandemic, the rollout of vaccines, the reopening of businesses, gathering at sporting events, holidays, family celebrations and getting back to normal.

Though we're not sure what "getting back to normal" will actually look like.

We do know that reporters, who had to adjust to covering the impact of the pandemic on their particular beats, will continue to cover both their beat areas and the pandemic. For example, sports reporters continue to cover games, trades, etc. while also reporting on games cancelled because of athletes who tested positive. What might be different is that they're testing positive to COVID, not to steroids. (As compared to a decade or so ago when steroid use in baseball was a big problem.)

In this post, we will look at six additional trends we think will be important this year. If they look familiar from 2020, they are. These are long-term trends affecting the media world, and are important to note because they address the daily circumstances that affect reporters. With an understanding of some of the variables reporters contend with can help when pitching stories to the media, developing marketing campaigns with media outlets, etc. 

  1. In a post-truth era, media polarization will continue and media credibility will decline. For years now, Americans have been living in a post-truth era – in which there’s a lack of shared, objective facts. Unfortunately, the growing distrust of the media and the chasm between media bubbles will get worse in 2021, especially on social media. This is bad for business because it exacerbates polarization and diminishes the credibility of all media outlets – making it harder for marketers to reach broad population segments while making it easier to unintentionally alienate parts of the population. Bonus thought: we expect the phrase post-truth to be used quite often in articles that look at the current lack of unity inside the U.S., fueled by social media and conspiracy theories and the immediate past administration.     
  2. The news flow won’t diminish in the first half of the year. The chaos of news over the past few years boosted engagement with news sources as people tried to keep up and make sense of it all. Despite a change to a presumably more-disciplined/boring administration, we expect the news flow to continue at its current levels through the fall due to the ongoing pandemic, its impact on the economy and continued volatile political situation. We also expect Doomscrolling will drop off but not fade away in 2021. The implication for marketers is that it may be hard to get the attention of reporters and producers as well as from consumers while they continue to be distracted by the latest developments.
  3. From a business perspective, the media sector will face a challenging year. Although we’re confident about demand for news will stay steady, we know demand by itself has not been the panacea for the media. In broadcast news, there’s a battle for viewers between Fox versus NewsMax and OAN plus a possible new threat if Donald Trump launches or buys a media property. Meanwhile, among newspapers and magazines, the New York Times, Wall St. Journal and Washington Post, and People are doing well, but the rest haven’t found a sustainable business model, especially because retail advertising has dropped due to COVID. Keep in mind: despite the strong demand for news, thousands of newsroom positions were cut in 2020, especially at local media, and that, sadly, will continue in 2021.
  4. More newsrooms will be shuttered. Since the start of the pandemic, most reporters have been working remotely so some companies have decided to save money by shuttering physical newsrooms including New York Daily News, Hartford Courant, Orlando Sentinel, and other big papers, much less at smaller, regional papers. That’s not a good thing because we feel there is real value in training junior staffers, which becomes harder when they’re working remotely from mentors. It also makes it harder for PR functions because it’s much harder to call reporters when they’re working from home, and have given up or rarely check their office voicemail.
  5. There are fewer reporters working, but it seems like there's more news than ever. Especially at local media, which increasingly seem understaffed, reporters are overwhelmed. They have to file more stories with fewer resources and less time between in which to develop stories. In years past, they would have had time to talk to the executive and get an original quote and add some insight into the announcement. We're not blaming reporters -- we blame the economics that have resulted in the layoffs of tens of thousands reporters over the last few years. Given smaller staffs, there's just not enough time to interview every executive. At some outlets, reporters are told they must file a certain number of stories per day. And when they're done with a story, they need to cross-promote it via social media. 
  6. Substack won’t save most reporters. An email newsletter platform designed to enable reporters to turn readers into paying subscribers, Substack has lured dozens of prominent reporters with the claim of a better business model for journalists to control their destiny and make money. Some, like historian Heather Cox Richardson, have thousands of paying subscribers and generate significant money via their Substack newsletter. But it’s not a solution that will scale and save the industry or even help most reporters. For PR professionals, it will mean evaluating new media targets and explaining to clients why a Substack newsletter represents a worthwhile opportunity.
All these issues still remain in force in 2021, and PR functions need to be aware of them in order to be successful in dealing with the media.

Friday, January 15, 2021

TrendReport for 2021: Top Trends for This Year


    For the 19th year, here are our predictions for the upcoming year.

    As always, we will be rolling out other key trends over a series of blog posts but here are our top 7 predictions for 2021:

    1. We will all become more aware of supply chains. While supply chain and logistics are vital, they rarely get mentioned in the mainstream media because they’re typically invisible to consumers. Because the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines encountered significant challenges and there were shortages of key consumer goods and appliances, we will all become more aware of supply chains issues this year. We expect more coverage if key shortages arise.
    2. The workplace of the future will be your home. Experts predict that a significant percentage of employees will choose to continue to work from home – which has propelled some to move to cheaper, less dense neighborhoods. Companies will have to rethink HR, recruiting and team building as well as reconfigure workflow, collaboration, and customer support to address the realities of the new workplace. For grocery stores, restaurants and retail locations, expect short-term changes like plexiglass dividers, asking people to socially distance, etc. to likely remain into 2022.
    3. Cities will need to reimagine downtown business districts. Office buildings will be emptier in 2021 as many businesses re-evaluate office needs and try to get out of leases. Local hospitality businesses and retailers need to focus on delivering customer experience, not just commodity service. To overcome stories about closures and stagnation, stimulate the local economy and give people a reason to visit, cities will need to revitalize downtown areas by expanding cultural activities.
    4. Telepresence, industrial robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will get more attention. Companies will experiment with deploying telepresence and robotic solutions and integrating AI to be better able to weather the next pandemic. This is an opportunity for industries like manufacturing that require onsite employees but haven’t updated processes. There will also be articles noting concerns about the impact of robots in the workplace on jobs as well as advances in AI.
    5. Telehealth becomes a preferred option, not an alternative. Telehealth will become the preferred option, particularly for therapy or appointments that don’t require hands-on treatment. We expect to see stories on the delivery of healthcare to those who don’t have access to telehealth and whether patients will get the same level of care and attention via virtual sessions as they do with in-person visits.
    6. Big Tech’s role will be scrutinized. With antitrust suits against Facebook and concerns about Section 230 – the FCC rule that protects social media companies from being sued for the content posted onto their sites – 2021 will be a tough year for Big Tech. Forcing Facebook to sell off Instagram and WhatsApp won’t solve the real problem: the polarizing nature of social media and the impact of disinformation in the public square. But everyone has an opinion, and we expect to see think numerous stories exploring the topic this year.
    7. The streaming wars will continue with no real losers. With the exception of Qubi, a standalone service that closed in six months, most of the new streaming services were launched by networks trying to optimize their content. The currently expanding number of streaming services have benefited from people staying home, but there are too many different providers to be sustainable. Contraction of non-network-based services (Crackle and Tubi, for example) won’t happen this year but could happen within 24 months.

    As always, let us know if you agree or disagree with these. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

TrendReport 2020: How Accurately Did We Predict Key Trends for 2020, Part 3

Here is our final list of ongoing trends that we predicted would be significant in 2020. (Part one is available here and part two here.)There's not as much description of the trends because we think, since they're ongoing, they need no introduction. Our point in highlighting them is that some trends don't immediately fade away. Obviously some trends disappear. But just because a trend went mainstream one year does not mean it goes away the next. 

These ongoing trends can continue to be relevant in subsequent years. That's why we always identify ongoing trends, and why we think it's worthwhile to look at which ones made a difference.

 Here are grades for 21 ongoing trends.

1.  Robocalls won’t go away. Grade A.

2.  More home exercise equipment will offer at-home streaming classes. We didn’t anticipate the huge growth in the sector but we were right about at-home streaming classes. Grade: A.

3.  News fatigue. Even reporters complained of being overwhelmed by too much news. Grade: A.

4.  Short news cycles. In Oct. alone, there was so much news that there wasn’t enough time to process everything before being overwhelmed by some other news item. That happened all year. Grade: A.

5.  Fake news and disinformation will continue, probably increase in 2020. We shouldn’t have hedged our bet by including the word “probably.” Grade: A.

6.  The credibility of news media is under attack. This remains a problem for marketers. And also for the hope of bringing people together to heal our country. Grade: A.

7.  Social media will continue to undergo scrutiny and it won’t look good. We expect more scrutiny in 2021. Grade: A.

8.  Cord-cutting will continue to attract the media's attention. Not sure it did. Grade: C-.

9.  Most tech reporters at newspapers will continue to focus on FAANG: Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google. They also discussed Zoom and accessories to help you work from home. Grade: B+.

10. Elon Musk and Tesla will continue to attract undue amount of media attention. Probably true. Grade: B.

11. Driverless cars still won't be ready. True. Grade: A.

12. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality still won’t be everywhere. But the pandemic may accelerate adoption. Grade: B.

13. Blockchain and bitcoin will continue to get media coverage but most consumers still won't have much contact with bitcoin and won't understand how Blockchain affects them. Probably true. Grade: B.

14. Corporate boycotts & consumer boycotts will continue. Corporate boycotts are when companies pull their ads from specific shows, hosts or networks to protest something said or done. This did happen in 2020. Grade: B.

15. 3-D content and 3-D printers will still not be as popular as they are cool. True. Grade: A.

16. Student debt and healthcare will continue to be big issues. Student debt did not get the attention we expected while healthcare was significant. Grade: B.

17. Climate change will be an issue. This got attention, in the wake of fire storms and other natural disasters. Grade: B.

18. Drug pricing will continue to get a lot of attention. Also, we all learned about the cost to develop and manufacture COVID-19 vaccines. Grade: B+.

19. STEM will continue to be important. But there didn’t seem to be as much media coverage of this. Grade: C.

20. More small colleges will merge or close. We expect more of that in 2021. Grade: B.

21. The future continues to look cloudy – as in cloud computing. Cloud computing was a big help during the pandemic. Grade: A.

We did pretty well with this set of predictions. We think many of these trends will continue to have impact in 2021. 

Let us know what you think. We are preparing our trends and predictions for 2021 and will issue them in early November. 

Monday, November 9, 2020

TrendReport 2020: How Accurately Did We Predict Key Trends for 2020, Part 2

This is the second-part of our look back at the trends for 2020 that we predicted last year. (The first part is available here.) We think it's important to look at what we got right and what we got wrong so that we can improve our process in time to make predictions for 2021. (There were, of course, plenty of trends that we completely missed, and we look at how to address any foreseeable trends that we did not see -- though to be fair to us, a lot happened this year that few actually predicted.)

Again, we're grading how we did with our second set of trends.

1.  Too many podcasts eventually will overwhelm listeners. We said that “Probably by 2021, we will have reached podcast saturation and there will be a backlash, both from advertisers and from listeners so that the proliferation of new podcasts will slow down, if not actually decrease.” We certainly didn’t reach the saturation point in 2020; as far as we can tell, the number of listeners has not declined this year. That said, we think listeners are overwhelmed by choices. Grade: C+.

2.  The expectations of well-design products will include connectivity and voice control. We think that consumers do expect Bluetooth connectivity and voice control but we’re not seeing those capabilities built-in in as many items as we’d like…for example, you can’t navigate your PC like the crew on “Star Trek” was able to. At least not yet. Grade: C.

3.  The trade-off between convenience and data collection will get recognition. This trend did not get much attention in 2020. Grade: C-.

4.  There will be a lot of media space allocated to covering outer space. We overshot this. There was some but not as much coverage as we expected. Grade: C-.

5.  5G and facial recognition will get lots of attention. We got this correct but there wasn’t much doubt about that. Grade: A.

6.  Artificial Intelligence will be in everything. We said,AI has reached a tipping point and will be built in to many things that weren’t possible just a few years ago.” We think that was right. Grade: A.

7.  AI will affect in-store retail.  We said that “AI will change how stores stock shelves because they will have better customer intelligence about how customers shop and what they want,” but we don’t know if that was true in 2020, due to the pandemic, which hurt retail, especially the kind requiring customers to enter stores. We stand by this trend but we may not see significant movement until 2022. Grade: C-.

8.  Software is the once and future king. We said that although “hardware and gadgets are always going to be important … it’s the software that will add new features that improve the things we already have.” Grade: A.

9.  Drones will experience significant growth in B2B applications. Drones did not get as much attention as we thought in 2020 so we feel this trend may take place by 2021 or 2022. Grade: C-.

10. From customer service to mental health and beyond, chatbots will be there to help us. This did not get the attention, and thus make the impact we expected in 2020. Any progress may have been behind-the-scenes. Grade: D.

We're not too thrilled with some of the C-s and the D but we're trying to hold ourselves accountable so we did not give ourselves an A+ this year for any trend, and tried to tamp down any sense of grade inflation.

We have more trends to evaluate. Check back later this week for our continued look back at trends that did or did not have an impact in 2020

Friday, November 6, 2020

TrendReport 2020: How Accurately Did We Predict Key Trends for 2020

One thing for sure: 2020 won’t be easily forgotten.

It’s been a year that sadly redefined a new normal in how we live and work. We continue to track deaths resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and see ongoing violence against people of color that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.

We won’t be doing a comprehensive recap of the year – including the lives lost or disrupted, although our hearts go out to all of them – because that’s outside the scope of our trend analysis.

As we’ve done each year for nearly 20 years, we will review the trends we identified the previous year and grade how we did for each prediction.

1.  Distrust of Big Tech and media fuels anxiety. We got this one right – noting that “This will fuel feelings of anxiety, anger, exhaustion, and isolation, regardless of political perspective” – though we underestimated the scale of the distrust or the anxiety. This is a significant problem because American generally live in one of two news bubbles, ones that communicate vastly different narratives so that we don’t operate with a single set of facts. This will continue to fuel distrust and anxiety in 2021.  Grade: A.

2.  The loss of local news coverage will continue, and will erode trust. According to Axios, “In the first 6 months of 2020, more than 11,000 newsroom jobs have been lost. That's nearly as many as were lost in all of 2009.” We’ve also seen many local papers reducing the number of days they publish, scaling back their print editions or going out of business. We were right about the continued loss of local news; we have not seen data yet about the impact of that loss. But we know that the trend impacts how local news gets reported and what kinds of local news gets published. This trend will continue in 2021. Grade: A.

3.  Streaming services will get a lot of media and consumer attention. We said that the so-called streaming wars is not a zero-sum game, that American consumers will choose to subscribe to several streaming services, not just one, and we got that right. Streaming services became even more important in 2020, with some like Disney+ premiering movies that would otherwise have been released first into movie theatres. We also believe we were correct when we noted that, “The growing number of ad-free streaming content services will make it harder for marketers to reach a mass audience. Even ad-supported services will be out of reach for local and regional organizations so they will need to look for other ways to reach local customers.” Grade: A.

4.  The Gig Economy isn’t just for millennials. We said to expect older Americans to enter the gig economy, and they may have but the pandemic hurt the gig economy. The gig economy did not get as much attention as it should amid huge losses of traditional jobs this year, nor did the impact on gig workers who don’t get benefits like unemployment checks when their jobs dried up. We believe that after the pandemic – whenever that is – the gig economy will recover, but gig workers will want a safety net to help them in case of future job losses. Grade: C.

5.  Consumer spending patterns are shifting. We said consumer spending would shift from owning to renting things like ZipCars, Citi Bikes and any number of sites that rent the latest fashion trends. On a short-term basis, spending did shift though that was due to the pandemic. Long-term we think that what we call the “non-ownership economy” or the “convenience economy” will continue. Grade: C.

6.  The sharing economy will become more expensive. We said to “expect (that companies will pay) more attention to gross margins (a measure of profitability), detailed financial models for startups looking to raise money, and a focus on discipline” as opposed to focusing only on growth. Instead, many companies focused on survival in 2020, which included pivoting to offer new products and enter new markets. That said, Netflix recently announced it will increase its monthly rates, and we think others will follow. Grade: B-.

7.  Streaming — but not owning — content increasingly means you might not be able to access the version you want. We said, “Consumers will become increasingly aware of the risks of streaming, which include ongoing monthly costs that will increase; content that disappears when a streaming service loses its rights even if you were in the middle of the program); and services that might disappear or abruptly shut down. Grade: A. 

8.  Going cashless will also affect consumer spending. Driven by the pandemic, contactless was huge in 2020 as almost everyone shifted to Venmo, PayPal, Zelle and other services. Many of us have hardly used cash all year. We can’t tell if contactless affected spending since retail was hurt by the pandemic. We do stand by the statement that “An increasingly cashless society will make it much more difficult for the poor, who may be unbanked (as the banking industry calls it) and can’t get a credit or debit cards.” Grade: A.  

9.  Robots won’t take over in 2020 but will be more commonplace. Robots will likely see a boost om a post-pandemic environment but we did not see as much coverage in 2020 as we expected. Grade: C+.

10. The age of plant-based “meats” has gone mainstream. This was a significant food trend though not the biggest of the year (that was cooking at home). Grade: A.

These were our initial sets of trends. We will post the next set on Monday, and will give us a final grade for the year. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Getting Ready for Our Annual Trend Report: a look back at 2020

It's soon going to be one of our favorite times of the year -- and we don't mean Thanksgiving, though that's our favorite holiday.

We're getting ready for our predictions for 2021.

But before we do, we're going prepare our recap for how we did in 2020.

The short answer: Not good. 

If you look at the top stories of the year.

We'll do a fuller recap of the our predictions versus the reality of 2021. We did get some trends correct -- like that more home exercise equipment will offer at-home streaming classes. But we didn't anticipate that Peloton would have a higher market cap than Ford. 

But more on 2020 trends after the election.


Monday, July 6, 2020

The New Trust Deficit: Facebook, Facts & a Frantic News Cycle

The U.S. is facing a number of simultaneous crises -- rising COVID infections, ongoing civil rights protests for BLM, an economy in recession that's driving huge job losses, bankruptcies, supply chain issues that could cause further harm. 

But there's one thing making each of those crisis worse, more dangerous and out of control.

It's that we can't agree on a single set of facts.

Instead, we have a credibility gap making things worse. Different parts of the country can't even agree about how to frame the various crises, including those cited above and others that have been in the news lately.

CNN's Reliable Sources newsletter recently called this a "trust deficit" in a story about Facebook and why some companies have stopped buying ads on Facebook.

For Facebook, the trust deficit is fueled by allowing misinformation and hate speech to spread.

Social media platforms use algorithms to continue to feed you content similar to the kinds of content you click on. This makes it easy to perpetuate your bubble because you continually see posts that fit your narrative.

Part of the problem: some information may have already been debunked only after we've seen it. Which is too late. People who consume the original message, and used that to bolster their narrative, rarely see the correction or update afterwards.

Another problem: we're so inundated by news that we're overwhelmed. We don't have time to process yesterday's news. Which means we don't have time to process today's news, to put it into context, to make sure we understand it -- before we're hit with the latest shocking piece of news, which is replaced by the even-more-recent news.

The result: we now live in a world with strongly held opinions that aren't necessarily based on facts. 


Which means: we might not agree that the top stories that are, in fact, the most important stories. 

We certainly don't agree with the implications of those stories -- whether they are fake news or facts might be debatable if we could meaningfully debate these issues. 

And we definitely disagree regarding any possible solution to a given crisis.

It's a helluva way to celebrate our nation's independence. 

We try to avoid taking political stands in this blog. But we're tackling the trust deficit because we do see it as a potential business threat for marketers.

It means that where you advertise (and where you don't), where and what you post could be seen as supporting or fueling the trust deficit. It's more important than ever to think about how you communicate to your publics while being aware and sensitive to how your marketing plays today and how it might play in a couple of years.