2020 PR: “Age of Anxiety” will bring continued fragmentation, mistrust of mass media

by | Jan 15, 2020 | Public Relations

A new year always brings a sense of hope and excitement, but with the baggage PR is dragging in from 2019, there’s also an ominous feeling throughout the industry. Indeed, a new PR forecast suggests a tough year ahead marred by distrust and anxiety.

PR and social media agency Birnbach Communications recently issued its 18th annual list of top tech, media and marketing trends for 2020, particularly those that will affect its clients in the technology, cleantech, biotech and life science, AI and robotics, STEM and education fields.

“There certainly will be positive trends in the U.S., like 5G technology, more content options from streaming services and podcast providers as well as new conveniences from the sharing economy, but at the same time, we predict that 2020 will mark the age of anxiety, fueled by distrust of Big Tech, traditional and social media—even as Americans rely on these sources more than ever,” said Norman Birnbach, president of Birnbach Communications, in a news release. “Marketers must not only be relevant—they also need find ways to credibly appeal across a divided America.”

Here are three of the agency’s top media predictions for 2020:

Distrust of Big Tech and media fuels anxiety

In a divided America, where even advertising decisions can cause Twitterstorms, companies need to find ways to be credible as well as relevant. There’s no simple solution for Big Tech like Apple, Amazon and Google regarding safeguards on the data they collect on all of us or for social media because there’s no clear or consistent definition of what constitutes misinformation or how to limit it without infringing on protected free speech.

There’s also no easy solution for the media, where even the “facts” may be disputed. Unfortunately, deepfakes (AI-generated fake videos and other images) will make it harder to know what’s real. This will fuel feelings of anxiety, anger, exhaustion, and isolation, regardless of political perspective. We expect many Americans will look for solutions and companies that provide joy, comfort, assurance and reliability to bolster their sense of well-being and connection.

The loss of local news coverage will continue—and will erode trust

More than one in five local papers have closed since 2004, according to the UNC School of Journalism and Media, while others have become hollowed out through layoffs. This is a real problem since local news outlets are often part of the fabric that holds communities together.

According to “Losing the News: The Decimation of Local Journalism,” by PEN America, “The connection between local journalists and their communities is essential… Seventy-six percent of Americans report trusting their local TV news, and 73 percent report trusting their local newspapers; by contrast, 55 percent of Americans trust national network news and 59 percent trust national newspapers.”

For marketers, fewer journalists and outlets makes it harder to reach customers, partners, investors and employers with their messages.

Streaming services will get a lot of media and consumer attention

HBO Max and NBC’s Peacock will battle for attention and subscribers with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Apple+, Disney+, and other streaming services in the “streaming wars.” But it’s not a zero-sum game; there’s room for a range of services that have different strategies in their content libraries, pricing and offerings.

We do expect a certain amount of churn/volatility as people subscribe to binge a particular show and drop it till the next season begins. The growing number of these ad-free streaming content services will make it harder for marketers to reach a mass audience.

Watch the firm’s blog for the rollout of more than a dozen additional predictions in the coming weeks.

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Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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