2021 Media Trends

Jeannette Bitz
November 17, 2020

At Engage PR, we’re always working with clients to identify and outline their tech predictions, at the same time it is just as important to be aware of the forces driving the media industry. From internal business pressures to a global pandemic, this year has had a huge impact on so many industries. For a better insight into the media landscape, we recently interviewed our friend and partner, Sam Whitmore, founder of Sam Whitmore’s Media Survey, about some of the trends that started in 2020, and those that will continue to develop in the new yeaer. Sam shared with us his thoughts on what he believes will be big trends for the coming year.

To start, we asked Sam about the impact COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter (BLM) had on the media, coverage and priorities in the newsroom.

The impact of COVID-19

Many national media outlets, including the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, saw an increase in traffic and readership. Readers seeking in-depth reporting and information about the COVID-19 virus spent more time on these media sites. As a result, these publications were able to monetize the new traffic.

B2B tech media outlets also fared well, especially editorially, digging into stories that highlighted e-commerce and last-mile telecom. With so many different industries being forced into building and maintaining a remote workforce, many B2B tech outlets focused on how companies were coping, and what the future of work will look like for these industries in 2021 and beyond. Healthcare publications had a field day, focusing on health tech, HIPAA and the importance of data. The pandemic galvanized reader interest — what exactly was happening out there?

In addition, we saw a lot of layoffs in publications in the middle, while surprisingly many of the deep trades didn’t experience these same layoffs.

What can we expect in 2021 and what does that mean for you?

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) will remain top of mind among many national media outlets, but readers and consumers want proof that your company is making progress.

In 2021, companies will need to show proof of forward momentum to be key in securing mainstream media interest. Diversity, equity and inclusion conversations have been happening for a long time, hitting a peak in late May around the BLM movement. Companies across multiple verticals expressed support through blog posts, web sites and social media, calling for change and announcing internal initiatives to make changes and improve DEI.

The 2021 spotlight, however, will be on companies and executives to show results and be held accountable for follow through and making impactful change. Reporters will be interested in hearing from those who publicly committed support, and whether or not they were successful in implementing change. This is an opportunity for technology companies to spotlight what they’re doing around diversity in their workplace, and they need to be prepared to show results.

B2B media spinouts—What price will ZDNet and Tech Republic get?

In my opinion, the owner of CBS Interactive — Red Ventures — will likely sell the ZDNet and TechRepublic media properties as those publications have nothing to do with the business model, which is affiliate marketing and online commerce. That’s going to be an interesting bellwether for the B2B media industry in 2021, to the extent to which the publishing industry assigns a value in ZDNet and Tech Republic because they’re excellent B2B properties.

Meaningful data and reports will remain important, but with the right support.

Client surveys and data can be a great tool overall, reporters are most interested in neutral research and survey points with clear news value. It’s important to ensure results are meaningful and valuable to reporters.

Often, DEI surveys lend themselves to vague questions and unclear data. With reporters already hardwired to pass on vendor data for many reasons, survey data has to be valuable. For example, does the data point to an emerging trend that will be common knowledge down the road? Examine the survey development process to determine if the data says something new about DEI, whether the sample size is large enough, and if results play into a broader story or emerging trend.

Look beyond simple benchmark surveys and turn to more salient insights and sharper thinking, especially as they pertain to measurable business success, for example, higher POC retention and recruitment paralleling better business results.

Editorial stars will continue to flee major media outlets.

This has been a trend going on for some time. Mid-level editors who have built a reputable brand are leaving traditional media jobs and making the leap to launch their own brand, most notably as Substack newsletter authors. These influencers have direct reach and influence on consumers and enterprise buyers and may be difficult to reach with traditional PR tactics. Traditional established media brands may see their influence wane if they replace those leaving with inexperienced junior staff.

It will be vital to target and follow these new brands and individuals that have a direct influence. It will be important to track these editors and pitch them directly on news in your industry to gain that traction and reach. Some examples of these new indie influencers: Ben Thompson who launched Stratechery, Polina Marinova, formerly of Fortune, and Alex Kantrowitz, formerly of BuzzFeed. There are many others.

Community sites create opportunities to connect with influencers and like-minded people.

For editorial brands, community is more important than ever. Earlier this year IDG launched a community site called IDG Tech (talk) Community. With in-person events going away, or at least on hold for the foreseeable future, these communities provide an opportunity — a paid one — for editors and clients to interact with one another. Community is a reader service because it empowers them to rub elbows with like-minded people who have been in a similar situation. Community is also a source of recurring revenue for publishers, vital because of the slow death of web advertising.

Thanks Sam!

If you would like to share your experience or thoughts on the media landscape, PR industry or communications, we’d be interested in hearing from you.


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