Monday, January 31, 2022

Two Trends Validated by New York Times and Boston Business Journal

For 2022, we issued 20 trends to celebrate our 20th anniversary -- and already two of our trends have been validated.

In our first set of trends, we said: "More data and bandwidth will help healthcare, but fitness trackers may not." By explanation, we said:

Boinformatics, which combines biology and computer science, will attract more media coverage. Powered by AI, bioinformatics is becoming more relevant because it collects and analyzes biological information, which will help transform the study and treatment of diseases and chronic conditions including neurological and psychiatric diseases. At the same time, expect that fitness trackers will get more scrutiny in terms of their accuracy, the data they capture (which may not be the data the user actually needs) and their inability to enable users to share the information with their healthcare providers.

We think this isn't a necessarily intuitive prediction about fitness trackers, so we're pleased that we're already seeing confirmation of it from the New York Times.

In her article, "I Ditched My Smart Watch, and I Don’t Regret It," Lindsay Crouse, a Times opinion staffer who writes on gender, ambition and power, asked: "Does this constant monitoring of our vital signs truly yield better health? There’s no clear answer yet. One study found that people trying to lose weight who used wearable technology to help actually lost less weight than their watch-free counterparts. A review in the American Journal of Medicine found “little indication that wearable devices provide a benefit for health outcomes.” Another issue is that the measuring abilities of wearables are imperfect for some metrics."

The rest of the article explains why Crouse -- well, her headline succinctly explains what she did.

We expect more articles to follow in other media to explain why others are giving up their fitness tracker.

Please note: some of us at Birnbach Communications use fitness trackers like Fitbit or wear smart watches, like Apple Watch. We still use them and like them, and our interest in bioinformatics and fitness trackers is because of our work in life sciences and healthcare, not in fitness trackers. But we feel there will be a backlash against them and that some people using fitness trackers and related apps may be experiencing pandemic burnout -- much the way that demand for (and probably usage of) Peleton equipment has dropped off, too. We expect a decline in other similar exercise tech brands and apps this year. 

Shifting gears, in a set of business-specific trends, we said, "Business magazines will publish fewer print issues," and we got this somewhat correct -- but it's not just business magazines that will publish fewer print issues. It's also newspapers. 

According to the Boston Business Journal, "Gannett to stop Saturday print editions at 136 newspapers nationwide." The elimination of Saturday print editions starts March 5, replaced with "expanded access to online editions." Whatever "expanded access" means, exactly. We do know that -- though it's not mentioned in the BBJ article -- that Gannett has also suspended print publication for a number of local weeklies not included in the 136 papers, shifting to digital-only access. Those papers will offer news "on social media, via digital newsletters, and other platforms." 

The reason for this cutback is that, even with significant consolidation (which involved substantial debt), Gannett still hasn't found a way to make newspapers sustainable, much less profitable. So they're cutting back print editions on the day that has traditionally been the lowest circulation day so this will have a somewhat limited downside, especially for younger readers who typically don't have a print subscription. (Sundays have the biggest readership.)  This is a problem, however, for older readers who tend to subscribe to the print edition, and may not want to or be able to access news online. And when a weekly paper shifts entirely online, it could cut off a significant population from keeping up with town news and events. 

Unfortunately, we now think other newspaper chains will follow Gannett's lead in 2022.  

There will be a couple of additional aspects to this. Online ads generate lower fees so by ending Saturday print editions, Gannett may lose ad revenue since its losing 1/7 of its print ads. Additionally, while Gannett may be able save printing and paper costs, the chain is likely to have to continue to pay union members who typically work on Saturdays.   

That said, we think newspapers will continue to reduce their their print schedules because the consumer of the future already accesses the online edition. We think there's a real value in print editions -- there's more impact of headlines, for example, and more impact for the news organizations themselves if people can see the papers displayed on newsstands or see people reading them on buses or trains. In part it's because it helps set an agenda, and keep most people in a community talking about the same news. One reason for the polarization is that, depending on the news source you consume, you will access different news-of-the-day depending on whether you watch FOX or CNN. FOX viewers get a vastly different sense of news from CNN viewers, and that lack of common basis is one of the reasons there's such a wide chasm in the country.

On the other hand, we don't expect print editions of newspapers or magazines to thrive, and we believe more newspapers (soon: just news) and magazines to drop their print editions entirely by the end of the decade. Online is how younger readers expect to access their news and how younger reporters expect to produce their news. It's faster, more immediate and cheaper. 

We will post more about these two predictions and other validations as the year goes on. 

Monday, January 24, 2022

TrendReport 2022: Business Edition

 For our 20th anniversary, we decided to issue 20 predictions this year. The first five are available here. The second set of five mostly dealt with trends based on the endemic or midterm elections

Here are our final set, which focuses on business issues, though some are the result of Covid:

  1. Business magazines will publish fewer print issues. This won’t get much coverage but PR and marketing functions need to be aware that there will be fewer print issues of major business magazines. Not long ago, new issues might hit before you had a chance to finish the previous issue. Now, there so much time between some issues, you might think your subscription expired to Forbes (used to publish 26 issues, now six), Fortune (24, now 14), Fast Company and Inc. (12, now six each) or Bloomberg Businessweek (50, now 45). Another example of shadow inflation is that the subscription to these and other publications used to include print and website access but now print subscriptions no longer provide online access. What this means: These business outlets are still important to an older demographic but their print editions are, because of their new publishing schedules, less timely.
  2. Companies need to evaluate their technology, including security, and real estate needs. For a brief moment, it looked like offices were reopening but omicron put those plans on hold. Even when offices reopen, many employees will work a few days in the office and few days from home. What this means: Companies need to evaluate their technology, including cloud and security, to enable hybrid workers to collaborate easily and effectively. So expect more apps to connect employees remotely, including apps that transcribe (not just record) virtual meetings and improve how we deliver presentations. Companies also need to reassess their office space requirements, and we expect them to scale back. We expect the media to pay attention to the impact on the real estate market and to look at the future of the office and how we work.
  3. HR will be seen as a competitive advantage. Being able to successfully manage remote teams, retain and recruit employees is more of a strategic priority than ever, especially given the Great Resignation. We expect the media to cover: fierce competition for talent that’s no longer limited by geography and will require better pay and benefits, including more flexibility for caregiving, mental health support; a positive culture (made more challenging to communicate remotely) more diversity and more corporate social responsibility programs; and less tolerance for toxic workplace conditions. This last point is especially important for front-line jobs – like flight attendants, restaurant workers, etc. – who dealt with rude and hostile costumers.  What this means: Employees are rethinking their careers and are searching for meaningful work, and companies will need to find ways to provide that. This is particularly important for small companies, including mom-and-pop retail and restaurants, who will find it harder to stay in business if they can’t find and keep employees.
  4. Future of money is increasingly cashless: More monetary transactions in 2022 will take place using apps like Venmo, PayPal, and Zelle because they’re more convenient because you pay with your phone – even if, like with Venmo, it’s more expensive than cash. We don’t expect this to get a lot of media coverage because reporters are more likely covering other finance topics including crypto, blockchain, NFTs and FinTechs — even though we think most readers won’t fully understand blockchain and NFTs (us included). But we do expect the percentage of cashless transactions to significantly increase except for the elderly and the unbanked poor. What this means: The big problem with going even 90% cashless is if you lose your phone or if there’s a blackout since cashless doesn’t work without electricity. Tangentially connected to the future of money because it is an alternate, but increasingly frequent, way for companies to go public, Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs), essentially shell companies, will get a lot of coverage, too, but much of it will be negative. 
  5. Streaming could mean the end of cable and movie theaters. In part due to the pandemic, streaming services have proliferated and millions more signed up. Pundits have been proclaiming the end of cable for a decade but it’s probably not a coincidence that cable use declined to 50% over the last year. We also think that steaming will further erode movie theaters’ business because with a few exceptions, staying home to watch a movie is easier and less expensive. What this means: We think the media will cover the streaming wars because there’s only so many services that consumers can subscribe to – but we remain confident that there won’t be any consolidation until 2023. We also expect the media to cover the health of movie theaters and other entertainment venues; that said, we think there’s an ongoing market for sports, live performances and that arenas and theaters will continue to attract audiences as long as the risks for going out into a crowd are minimized.
  6. Smart homes devices will finally be able to communicate with devices from other manufacturers. One of the challenges of IoT and smart homes is that Google, Apple and Amazon’s technologies don’t interoperate with each other. Meaning: if you have a lock that works only with an iPhone, new owners who have an Android may need to replace the lock with an Android-friendly app. What this means: Just as the media is interested in the future of work, they’ll be interested in the future of the home. We expect the media to look at Matter, an interoperable platform/standard to allow devices from different manufacturers to communicate together.
  7. Electric cars still have a way to go. Although President Biden’s goal is to have 50% of all cars sold by 2030 be electric, we’re going to need significant changes in eight short years. What that means: Many electric cars have a range of 300 miles but that won’t work for long road trips, and there aren’t even enough EV charging stations in most cities. It will also be a problem given the current shortage of automotive semiconductors because we will certainly need more of them.
  8. Getting around cities will be slower, more complicated. Meanwhile, some cities are getting overrun by scooters, e-bikes and Citi Bikes, which were intended to improve transportation solutions inside a city, as well as by more people using delivery services to get food, groceries and other supplies, clogging streets, bike lanes and sidewalks. And in some cities, Citi Bike racks take up space that used to be parking spots for cars, reducing that valuable space while cars must circle to find an open spot. What this means: This is another area where infrastructure investments will be important. As for too-many scooters, we expect cities to look at regulating the number of scooters while promoting scooters as a sustainable alternative to using cars or even public transportation.
  9. Space will seem a bit further in 2022. With the exception of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, most of the top billionaires went into space in 2021. We don’t think there will be additional U.S. billionaires starting their own space companies. We do expect more space exploration by private companies, however. What this means: Continued interest in the space economy that is just taking off.
  10. Automation and robots will be more visible. To adjust to fewer workers, more companies will look to automate processes, using artificial intelligence (AI) and robots. Expect more stores to offer self-checkout (if they didn’t before), which may include AI-enabled cashierless technology. What this means: Once jobs are automated, it’s hard to go back. That said, at each inflection point, some jobs disappear – like the people who used buggy whips and those who made buggy whips – but are replaced by other jobs.

As always, we will evaluate how we did later on in December though we may decide to issue a midterm report in July, too. 

In the meantime, let us know what think -- if you agree or disagree. Thanks for reading! 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Birnbach Communications Issues Additional Trends for 2022: Endemic Edition

We would love for the pandemic to be in the rearview mirror but it's not over by a long shot. We do expect greater uncertainty for the next year, and that the New Normal won't ever be quite the same as the Old Normal. Because it never is.

But that doesn't mean the New Normal won't be okay. As a society, we adjust, and we believe that's a positive perspective -- we will get through this. We develop a new routine way to live, work and play.

We already issued our main trends for 2022 so here are our Covid-and-Midterm Edition of trends: 

  1. Covid uncertainty amplifies credibility crisis. Months of evolving guidance has created distrust in the CDC, which it explains is the result of “fast-moving science.” Unfortunately, that distrust is exacerbating things at a time when distrust in American institutions is the highest its been since Watergate. What this means: This is a problem for marketers because the media is generally seen as less credible, across the spectrum, and marketers use media to communicate and engage with their audiences. Further, because the media world is increasingly polarized, companies may alienate customers based on whether or not they advertise or boycott certain media properties. Also, it is not easy to rebuild trust and credibility; it took the better part of a decade to recover from Watergate mistrust, and we didn’t have social media to contend with at that time.
  2. Consumer Price Index and inflation will get a lot of attention. The media will pay attention to the CPI and inflation – which are related but not the same measure. We also expect to hear the phrase “shadow inflation,” which refers to when companies hold prices but reduce the net weight of packaged food products or when travel and hospitality companies start charging for services they used to include in the purchase price. Gas prices will especially get coverage. What this means: As with supply chain, we expect inflation will improve later in the year but it will get coverage through October since this is likely to be a mid-term election year issue.
  3. Because it’s an election year, the media will pay attention to the two Americas separated racially, economically, politically and by access to opportunities and healthcare. Covid will continue to be the major story but because of the upcoming midterms, we think the media will try to report on the big gaps between the haves and the have-nots. What this means: We mention this not to open a political discussion but because there’s a limited “newshole,” and it’s important to know what reporters will be covering because it means less time or space for them to write about your company.
  4. Big Tech, particularly social media, will continue to relied upon and hated. There’s awareness that social media is causing societal problems and that Congress, which for years has held hearings to determine a solution, has not done anything more than grandstand rather than provide a solution. We expect ongoing media coverage of the problems across various platforms but we don’t expect Congress to provide a meaningful solution because too many in Congress think the answer is to break up some of these companies as if they were traditional monopolies or to replace Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which is designed to protect freedom of expression on the internet. What this means: Not much will change.
  5. Infrastructure and 5G will be important topics in 2022. Updating the country’s infrastructure is seen by some as a way to make the U.S. more competitive and also improve access to necessary services to the have-not Americans who, for example, lack access to high-speed internet. As 3G service is discontinued, it is necessary to help provide 5G access in parts of the country that lack high-speed access. What this means: reporters will be interested in experts who can discuss what needs to be done and how infrastructure investments can impact rural communities, the poor, etc.

Of these, we think the Covid uncertainty will have the longest-lasting impact although none of these is really a short-term trend. 

We have another 10 trends -- for a total of 20 to mark our 20th anniversary -- to roll out over the next few days. Let us know if you agree or disagree.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Birnbach Communications Issues Key Media, Business and Tech Predictions for 2022: Trends in supply chain, healthcare, infrastructure and cybersecurity will dominate media landscape

To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we're issuing our 20th annual list of top media and marketing trends for 2022.

Here are four of the agency’s top predictions for 2022:

  1. Supply chain issues will be at the forefront of corporate communications. The state of the nation’s supply chain will continue to receive coverage, until it becomes more reliable – probably in 2023. Understocked shelves will remain an issue due to scarcity of truck drivers, raw materials and semiconductors, and due to pent-up demand. The implications: Companies that effectively address supply chain issues can gain competitive advantage. They need to regularly communicate with customers about when they expect supplies to get back to normal, otherwise, consumers may try a new brand and not look back.
  2. Infrastructure investments and smart cities will spur sustainable tech. Beyond much-needed investments in ailing bridges and roads, look for cities to improve their tech infrastructure as they develop plans to revitalize themselves. The implications: Cities will look more at smart and sustainable technologies, like more electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, solutions to manage food and package deliveries, intelligent traffic light systems that can adjust to traffic conditions, devices improving energy efficiency, and systems to improve safety, as well as smart sensors to gather data about pollution and other environmental data.
  3. More data and bandwidth will help healthcare, but fitness trackers may not. In addition to the ongoing focus of healthcare reporters on COVID-19 this year, bioinformatics, which combines biology and computer science, will attract more media coverage. Powered by AI, bioinformatics is becoming more relevant because it collects and analyzes biological information, which will help transform the study and treatment of diseases and chronic conditions including neurological and psychiatric diseases. At the same time, expect that fitness trackers will get more scrutiny in terms of their accuracy, the data they capture (which may not be the data the user actually needs) and their inability to enable users to share the information with their healthcare providers. The implications: Bioinformatics companies will have more opportunities to inform the public about the timeliness and significance of their technology, while companies selling fitness trackers need to be prepared to address the issues that might arise about their offerings.
  4. Cybersecurity will continue to dominate the media as companies search for solutions. The increase in the number of hybrid employees opens new security risks, and companies will need to establish new solutions for users accessing their networks remotely. The implications: Ransomware and other cyber-disruptions won’t go away this year so expect ongoing media coverage in 2022, especially involving government agencies and big companies with access to lots of personal data.

For our 20th anniversary, we identified 20 trends. The complete list, including 16 additional predictions, will be rolled out on our blog, PRBackTalk.