Norman Birnbach, President, Birnbach Communications
The big driver of trends this year will be determined, unfortunately, by the uncertainty due to the ongoing pandemic. Ultimately, we will adjust to a “new normal” – whatever that looks like. With that in mind, as we’ve done for 20 years, we’ve identified a mix of trends that we feel will be important in the upcoming year.
And while reporters are back to covering the impact of Covid on their particular beats, here are nine other trends we expect they will cover this year:
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.
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.
6) 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.
7) Streaming could mean the end of cable and movie theaters. 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. 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: 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.
8) Big Tech, particularly social media, will continue to be relied upon and hated. 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.
9) 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 customers. 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.
As we do every year, we’ll do a recap in December to see how we did with our predictions. We think it is important to look at trends affecting a range of sectors, even if we don’t have active clients in a particular area, because there’s a limited quantity of reporters, editors and newspaper pages, including even on a website, and airtime TV, cable, radio and podcasts. So if business reporters are covering the latest iteration of the streaming wars, for example, they may be less able to cover your story. Additionally, knowing what reporters are likely to cover means you’re in a better position to pitch them a story they can use.
About the Author: Norman Birnbach is the president of Birnbach Communications, www.birnbach.com, a 20-year-old 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.