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.