After the most unique year in our lifetime, forecasting the year ahead in communications calls for equally unique insights and expertise. Boston-based Birnbach Communications, a PR and social media agency focusing on thought leadership, has issued its 19th annual list of top media and marketing trends for 2021.
“Some trends from last year—namely continued fragmentation and mistrust of mass media during what we called ‘the age of anxiety,’—will continue, unfortunately, into this year. But we do see some positive developments ahead across industries, as telehealth visits become a preferred option to office visits, contactless transactions become easier, and local businesses focus on new ways to deliver distinctive customer experiences,” said Norman Birnbach, president of Birnbach Communications, in a news release. “By identifying these trends, we can advise our clients across industries—tech, biotech and life science, AI and robotics, STEM and education fields—and uncover opportunities and approaches that we predict will be important to the media in a given year.”
Here are seven of the agency’s top media 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 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 Quibi, 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.
The complete list, containing 10 additional predictions, will be rolled out on the agency’s blog, PRBackTalk.