7 Media Trends for 2021 include Supply Chains, Healthcare, Telepresence and Customer Experiences

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Norman Birnbach, President, Birnbach Communications

It’s great that 2020 is over. Finally.

Although many of the trends and issues from last year sadly will continue into 2021, PR and marketing teams should look at new trends to find ways to stay relevant and engaged with other stories the media will be covering. 

Our approach to identifying trends is based on conversations with reporters and a review of a wide-range of sources, with the goal of helping clients understand the media landscape. For example, we’ve been telling clients for the last few weeks that reporters have been very distracted during the post-election – so it was gratifying to read that Ina Fried at Axios Login, the company’s tech newsletter, validated our perspective this week. Writing about the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a major tech showcase that generates tons of media coverage because it’s where consumer product companies typically launch exciting cutting-edge products, Fried noted: “The 2021 edition of CES was mostly an afterthought as media’s attention focused elsewhere.” 

We’ve recognized the media’s distraction and have advised clients appropriately to set expectations. In so doing, we may have helped clients better time and position their announcements. 

Here are seven of our 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. What this means: Executives with supply chain expertise have an opportunity to position themselves as thought leaders if they can provide big-picture perspectives and insights to help reporters explain the challenges we’re seeing.
  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. What this means: HR executives can offer insights into the long-term implications for job-hunters and current employees or companies can talk about how their new products solve new challenges. (For example: selfie lights. Last year you might not have heard of them but if you have a dark corner of your home from which you now conduct video calls, you should get some.)
  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. What this means: Even if you’re pitching a totally different story, if your organization has big downtown presence, you should be prepared to address reporters’ questions about the future of your office space and your commitment to support the community.
  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. What this means: Companies may have an opportunity to showcase themselves as case studies for deploying new technology (though it shouldn’t just be about new technology as about a new way of getting work done).
  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. What this means: There are a number implications that HR staffs will need to address. Instead of taking an hour from work to go to a doctor’s office, an employee will need a quiet, private location from which to conduct a telehealth call. That’s not a problem for mployees working from home; but it could be an issue if they work from a bullpen area in an office. HR execs will need to reconfigure policies and expectations to deal with telehealth visits, for example.
  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 numerous stories exploring the topic this year. What this means: Organizations need to look at how people are using various platforms and to be prepared to adjust their social media activities based on shifting laws and regulations as well as algorithms that may impact those campaigns.
  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. What this means: This trend could be significant for marketers because people who primarily stream content are harder to reach via advertising than those who watch on-air advertising-supported networks. So marketers will need to find other, more creative ways to reach those consumers.

Of course, these aren’t the only trends we expect to hit this year. We are optimistic, and do expect 2021 to be a better year. It’s important to pay attention to the factors driving media coverage to be able to generate positive coverage and to position executives as thought leaders.


Norman BirnbachAbout the Author: Norman Birnbach is the president of Birnbach Communications, www.birnbach.com, a Boston-based PR and social media agency that helps clients navigate trends and raise awareness through earned media and thought leadership. His blog, PR BackTalk, provides insights and attitude about PR, journalism and traditional and social media.