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Media Predictions for 2013

For more than a dozen years, Birnbach Communicates has compiled an annual list of media trends for its clients, who operate across a range of industries, including technology, financial software and services, unified communications, storage, security, biotech, healthcare, clean tech, senior services, consumer, social networking, nonprofit and education sectors.
In 2012, there were some big trends that reached the tipping point (a phrase that has moved beyond its initial trendiness), like cord cutting – dropping cable TV service either as a way to save money or to try new watch-anywhere apps such as Hulu Plus and Netflix – as well as cybercrime or cyberwarfare (depending on who’s being hacked), the battle of tablets, and cloud computing. We expect those and other trends from the last two years to continue to be important this year.
The trends and topics we identify help the agency work with its clients to work more effectively with reporters, producers, bloggers and other influencers. We also look at the way topics are being covered by media and in social media, and at how those stories are told. We continue to see that the way stories can and should be told is continuing to shift.
The following are among Birnbach Communications’ media trends for 2013: 

  • The story still matters.  Even in a communications age limited by Twitter to 140 characters, the story and messages continue to matter, and are an important part of how companies remain relevant.  But the impact of social media is that stories need to be told not just shorter but differently.  They need visuals (still photos and video); text alone isn't enough. They need to be more frequent; you can't issue marketing materials in Jan. and feel you're done for the year.  And the stories companies tell must be very customer focused and be easily shareable. And stories have to be about offering tips and lessons learned because social media is all about offering advice as a way to show a company's expertise.
  • Corporate values and personality matter. As a part of corporate branding, values have always mattered but corporate personality may not have been important. After all, the differences between Coke and Pepsi aren’t significant. The same is true for McDonald's and Burger King. But there is a difference between Microsoft vs. Apple vs. Google.  And that's certainly true of what otherwise might seem like commoditzed sectors; insurance branding in advertising seems to be all about each company's personality -- you don't need to be a psychologist to grasp the differences between Geico, Progressive, All-State and Liberty Mutual (Disclosure: we have done project work for Liberty Mutual). And in 2013 and beyond, social media will multiply the impact of values and corporate personality. Companies need to be prepared to communicate not just their selling proposition but also their values and personality as they engage with customers via social media. (Be prepared for a lot of companies to try to appear edgy...even if they're not.)
  • Social media is relevant for B2B companies. In 2013, it's not only B2C companies that need a social media strategy; B2B companies will need one, too, because it should be clear to them that their customers are online, whether as part of their personal or professional lives. Social media isn’t about telling your friends about what you're having for lunch or sharing the latest LOL cats clip (or, at least, not only about that). It is where people go to get and share information. B2B companies that have been reluctant to engage on social media need to realize that social media provides them with the opportunity to reach customers in ways that ads in traditional print publications are not doing -- and we think 2013 will be that year.

General Consumer Trends
We expect the media to report on several tech battles in 2013.

  • The Battle for the Living Room.  Who can supply the highest of the ultra high definition TVs? At CES, there was a battle between OLED (organic light-emitting diode) versus 4K high definition known as UHD (ultra high def), which offers four times the pixels of 1080p high-def displays. However, a similar problem that plagues 3D TV – lack of 3D content – will likely plague UHD because UHD TVs work best with video shot in UHD. Additionally, UHD requires a lot of memory: UHD movies need 10 terabytes, which is about 2,500 times more than a standard HD movie and comes at a time when most Americans don’t even have one terabyte to hold all their movies and music. Another problem: The huge cost of UHD sets: an 84-inch set currently costs $25,000 – raising two important questions: “For the same money, do you buy a car instead?” And “Who has the wall space to display a seven-foot screen?
  • Battle between different streaming services and cable’s embrace of streaming.  Until last year, this was basically a battle between Hulu and Netflix and Amazon Prime. This year, the market got more crowded, with the entry of Redbox along with cable and satellite companies now offering streaming video.  Don’t expect prices to drop from around $5 to $10 per month.  (If people are subscribing to streamed video services to watch on their tablets, what are the implications for TV manufacturers getting ready to sell $25,000 TVs?) Because Netflix is the only public company offering streamed video, we expect that its earnings will get a lot of coverage because it will be seen as a belle weather for the entire industry.
  • The battle among huge companies. Apple v. Google v. Samsung and Microsoft. Oracle v. Everyone Else. The media have a boxing ring mentality: They love to report on the battle between two competing companies. So we expect continued high level of coverage of Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft in their battle for supremacy. Of course, those four hypercompetitive companies are often battling other companies as well. (Yes, we've included this prediction in prior years – we feel that the media continues to be fascinated by this story and see no end in sight.) Interestingly, over the past year, Samsung has leveraged Android to become a major global player in the smartphone and tablet sectors, which is having an impact on both Apple (as an iPhone and iPad competitor) and on Google (since Samsung, as the de facto Android leader, could ask to renegotiate its agreements with Google, cutting Google’s margins).
  • The Battle for Map Supremacy: Apple v. Google v. Nokia v. Microsoft v., Amazon. Apparently there’s big business in offering maps – even though most map providers don’t charge users for directions. Instead, they make money through mobile ads and services. We think that this should get more attention in 2013 as a result of Apple’s initial map app fail. Mapping is important because in order to be successful at enabling (and charging for) hyperlocal marketing, those companies need to be proficient at mapping.
  • Apple TV set and the future of TV. We could have lumped this one in either the Battle for the Living Room or streaming video content. However, given everyone's fascination with what Apple is doing, we expect to see continued speculation of how Apple plans to disrupt the TV-viewing experience through plans for a possible Apple TV set, and the implications from a programming and TV set-manufacturing perspective. Despite Apple’s persistent denials that it is not developing its own TV set, we expect to see more articles about Apple's effort into redesigning a TV set for how we watch today. 
  • Automated home and smart appliances.  As smart appliances and devices like Internet-connected refrigerators and ovens become available, expect more media coverage about them. A problem for smart appliance manufacturers is that people tend to hold onto refrigerators for a long time so what seems smart today won’t feel so smart a decade from now. Appliance makers will need to find ways to make the displays and the software running the smart appliances to be easily upgradeable. Another challenge: The lack of interoperability – the ability for one smart device to be able to communicate effectively with another smart appliance. If you buy one brand of toaster, will it be able to “talk” with your refrigerator? If they can’t, you basically have a Kitchen of Babel. Appliance manufacturers will need to make sure their appliances can talk to each other (and not just to the apps on your smartphone).
  • 3D printers: Not yet ready for prime time. 2013 will be the year in which the media proclaims the arrival of 3D printers -- which can make three-dimensional solid copies from an original item. The technology enabling 3D printers has matured significantly but it still seems somewhat of an early adopter item. If people have problems with paper jams in regular printers, just imagine the potential problems with 3D printers. We think that obstacles to purchasing 3D printers, for most households, include limited use for most households, the learning curve on how to use it, costs of the necessary supplies to create 3D replicas, and the need for technical support. We do expect that media and blogger coverage of 3D printers will focus on how cool it is, and that the business press will look at the implications for U.S. manufacturing.
  • The three most important aspects of the future of tech in 2013: mobile, mobile, mobile.  We said this last year, too, but we're not being lazy. More than anything else, what’s driving innovation is the need for mobile access. The great enablers of mobile include: Increased wireless network speeds and the increased push of cloud computing. It's in developing the latest apps to serve the latest tablets, smartphones and hybrids. It's why PC manufacturers that have killed development of their handheld or mobile units (like Dell) will face trouble over the next few years because interest is so strong in mobility and interconnectedness. We don't necessarily want to use our phones to actually speak to other people but we want phones that have apps that allow us to communicate with our appliances (even if we're not home), to allow us to work (even if we're not in the office), to shop for and pay for items (whether we're in the store or at the beach), and to access information we need with no connectivity or bandwidth issues. This focus on mobility, along with the interconnected issues, will continue to define the rest of the decade. Look for the rise of a new CMO – not chief marketing officer but chief mobility officers: people whose job it is to ensure a company’s products are all optimized for mobile. But also expect that job to have a short lifespan because, for most companies, if your products are not optimized for mobile by 2018, you may not be in business. Also important is mobile ads and mobile search.
  • Forecast: cloud is everywhere. Cloud computing, which stores applications and content offsite so you can access it on any device, is a big driver of mobile computing. In 2013, more companies will rely on the cloud for access to proprietary information that would have been inconceivable just a few years ago. And while the benefits of cloud computing includes lower cost, there could be a backlash about hidden costs as consumers realize that over time they may be paying out more than if they relied on portable storage devices, which are less convenient but offer a one-time cost. (Of course, another benefit to the cloud is that your content is automatically backed up elsewhere by your cloud provider.) We also expect a few outages this year that but that they won't have much impact on the cloud's momentum. We also think that resistance to the cloud is futile.
  • Bring Your Own Device to the office (BYOD) will be go mainstream. After increasing in corporate and media consciousness for the past two years, we expect that BYOD, a term that refers to employees using their own smartphones and tablets at work, instead of sometimes less-powerful, less user-friendly devices and applications, will become pervasive enough that the media will be able to refer to it without having to spell it out. (By the way, BYOD is another benefit of the cloud.)
  • Jobs, unemployment, and recruiting and the need for specially-trained employees for specific industries will be a big story. There will be a lot of coverage on the impact of ObamaCare, regulations, taxes, and spending cuts on job creation and job growth -- with prescriptive op-ed articles in the New York Times taking drastically opposing perspectives from those appearing in the Wall St. Journal. Expect that immigration reform, particularly H1B visas needed by skilled foreign employees to work in the U.S., will also get a lot of coverage. Interestingly, while unemployment figures remain higher than either party would like, high tech and biotech companies are having difficulty finding qualified job candidates to fill open job -- making H1B visas an important issue. Expect that some to make the argument that the way to solve the job creation issue is a matter of addressing priorities within our education system, such as our lack of science and math teachers, which decreases the number of students interested in science and math. (However, in our polarized environment, expect opposition to spending more on education and job training.)
  • STEM will continue to be a push by businesses. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) probably won't generate a lot of media attention but we think it will continue to an important trend. More schools are focused on STEM projects (to the extent that few media articles actually feel the need to spell out what the acronym stands for), and more far-thinking businesses in related fields are realizing they need to support STEM projects in order to nurture future employees. FIRST, a robotics competition founded by inventor Dean Kamen, is flourishing because its LEGO-based robotics competition for elementary students is popular while its robotics competition for high school students draw increased support from businesses, executives who agree to mentor, etc. (Disclosure: we have done project work for FIRST.) STEM may not generate much coverage in 2013 but we still think it is an important trend.
  • App burnout: There are probably a million apps now on iTunes, Android Market, Google Apps Marketplace, Windows Phone Apps Store, but most of us use only a fraction of the apps we downloaded. Just because there’s an app for that, doesn’t mean people actually use the app after downloading it. One implication is that it will start becoming difficult to get potential users to download new apps.  We expect more coverage of this trend – way more apps than users – discussing the implications for app developers and the smartphone environment.   
  • Mobile search: Search continues to be important, but mobile search, which includes hyperlocal functions (i.e., points of interest immediately around your smartphone), will become increasingly important in 2013. While Google has a tremendous lead, expect media coverage for smaller, as yet unknown but more focused players to emerge. After all, Google is a lot more than just a search engine; it’s about driverless cars, computerized glasses, etc.
  • Robotics will generate buzz. We're not at a point of having humanized (if fussy) droids like C3P0 but we expect that advances in robotics to generate some coverage in even the more staid business publications (beyond Wired and Fast Company).
  • Biotech consolidation. The biotech sector is undergoing significant change from a variety of pressures that include the continued high cost of drug development and structural pressures from ObamaCare. We've seen a lot of consolidation among Big Pharma (which should be known as Bigger Pharma) and the rise of virtual biotechs, shifts in research funding from Big Pharma to VCs. Increased regulation and scrutiny will make drug development more complex (i.e., expensive) but the FDA is also focused on spurring development of more cost-effective alternatives. Either way, expect that the biotech is evolving, and will continue to evolve over the next two years.
  • Regulatory changes will continue to impact financial services firms. The challenge will be staying ahead of the changes. New banking and financial regulations will generate coverage, as does articles that examine the potential implications. But the daily work of how to meet those regulations rarely ever get the media's attention because the work involved is so technical. The lack of media coverage doesn't mean that how companies deal with regulatory change isn't a compelling trend.
  • Premature deathwatch of things that are very much alive.  One type of story reporters and bloggers like to write is the purported death of various, usually popular items, devices or technology. PowerPoint to email to texting and beyond have been proclaimed dead, even as those technologies continue to be used. We suspect these death wishes are a backlash to ubiquity combined with enormous frustration with the tech itself. The list of tech whose reported death is an exaggeration seems destined to grow larger with every year so here are candidates for 2013:
    • e-Readers: Just as ebooks are outselling hardcopy books, we expect a backlash affect saying that e-readers are dead because of the iPad and the iPad Mini. Yet we think e-readers will continue to sell because they weigh less and are easier to hold than tablets and because their screens are designed to be read in full sunlight (something you can’t do on an iPad).
    • Flash: Because of the popularity of Apple devices that are designed not to use Flash, some people have predicted Flash’s death. But there are still a lot of PCs out there that can use Flash. We say it’s not dead yet.
    • PCs: Last year, we said we expected that Post-PC would be a term we’d hear a lot – and we did – but though PC sales are declining, there’s still some life in PCs yet. There are still some things that you can do more easily and efficiently on a PC than a tablet so don’t write them off – just yet.  We think Ultrabooks and devices like Microsoft’s Surface Pro (part-PC/part-tablet) will continue to be in use through the end of the decade.
    • Cable TV: With all the articles about cord-cutting, you’d think all households were abandoning cable. That’s not the case, exactly. There are still programming like sports and local TV that you can’t easily get via Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. And if you have to pay for all the streaming services to replicate cable, you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated when you cobble together different services and that you’ll wind up paying several hundred bucks a year. 
    • 3D TVs and 3D glasses: Though it was the much hyped tech from last year’s CES, 3D TVs never took off. The reason: There’s just not enough 3D content available to make it worth purchasing 3D TVs.  A year later, there’s still not enough 3D content, and it doesn’t look like much is being developed, except for some 3D movies, which also aren’t meeting expectations. But if 3D movies didn’t die in the 1950s, when they were pioneered, we bet that 3D isn’t completely dead. Another reason people proclaim the death of 3D TVs is the launch of 4K and OLED TVs, which offer ultra high definition screens the size of entire walls. However, those UHD sets are also ultra expensive so we don’t expect to see them in everyone’s living room for some time. Please note: we do think 3D glasses for living room use is dead.
    • Blu-ray machines and DVDs: Typically the deaths of Blu-ray and DVDs are proclaimed for the same root cause: people prefer to stream video rather than own DVDs that can be scratched and destroyed and can only be played on certain devices (like Blu-ray players) that you can’t easily take with you everywhere.  But the fact is lots of people own lots of DVDs, and we don’t think people are going to be willing to throw their collections into the scrap heap of history just yet. Besides, DVDs offer featurettes that you can’t access from streaming video sites, which is often why people buy DVDs of their favorite movies. Also, for some households, the easiest way to access the streaming sites is through their Blu-ray players so don’t them out just yet. On the other hand, you don’t need Blu-ray quality when you’re streaming video.
    • Radio: Funny thing is that radio was supposed to have died years ago. In 1979, the Buggles hit the charts with their one hit, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” referencing a time in 1952 when radio was supposed to have died. Yet radio continues on, even in an era of iTunes.  That’s not true of cassette tapes, as evidenced that no new cars come equipped with tape players and that last year Sony actually stopped producing the Walkman, its pioneering portable music player. We’ll know radio is dead when car manufacturers stop including radios in new cars. But until that time, consider radio’s death to be premature. (Sorry, Buggles, whatever you’re doing now, certainly not, as they sang, playing their VCR.)
    • Landlines and cellphones that aren’t smartphones: The death of the landline has been foretold for several years. And while we know of some people who have given up their landline and only use a cellphone, and even more people who maintain a landline but never check their landline’s voicemail, the vast majority of Americans continue to own a landline even if they don’t use it regularly. What’s saving the landline? Packages that combine phone, Internet and cable offerings and because a landline is probably the cheapest communications service most of us use. As for dumb phones, they’ll continue as long as parents want to equip their kids with a phone for emergencies but one that won’t distract them as a smartphone will.
    • Press releases: Reporters have been wishing for press releases to die just as VCs have been wishing the death of PowerPoint so that they never have to be bored again in another pitch meeting. Despite social media, there’s still a place and a value to press releases.
    • CES: Last year we said CES was being supplanted by SXSW, which focuses more on social media and apps. We stand by that but we don’t think CES is dead, it’s just declining in impact. There were far fewer articles and broadcast stories covering the latest CES tech but CES still gets covered (even if to say how boring it was).
    • Privacy: Facebook and most social media has basically killed off the traditional definition of privacy -- nothing new about that. But pundits proclaim privacy is dead overlook the fact that each time Facebook revises its privacy policies, there's often media coverage and a negative response. (Of course, the negative response has never stopped Facebook.)
    • The Office: Not the NBC sitcom, which will go off the air this year, but the need for offices as we’ve used them.  There have been a spate of illustrated articles portraying offices of the future based on the impact of new or nearly here technology – the result: articles that still play off the concept of the paperless office (see below) and office hoteling, a first-come, first-serve concept for allocating temporary office space within large companies that has been around for more than a decade. From our perspective, people love to hate their offices, and these articles that often depict an officeless future are more wish fulfillment than actual transformation. That said, current technologies like cloud computing and videoconferencing do facilitate working from locations other than from an office, and we’ve seen a steady increase in telecommuting and working from home, leading to articles about tech in bed – but for a lot of jobs, an office will remain necessary.
    • Paper: Back in June 1975, BusinessWeek published an article called “The Office of the Future” that included some prescient thoughts that have come true – like messages available on a “TV-display terminal with keyboard” – along with this: “Some believe that the paperless office is not that far off.” Some feel that the cloud will finally get rid of paper because you will be able to access your files everywhere so you won’t need paper. However, printed materials, including press kits and presentation folders, are still important ways to transmit information in ways that support and extend branding. Based on the clutter we see in many offices, we don’t think a paperless office is actually going to happen or that it’s necessarily a sign of progress (except for having less messy offices).
    • Social media gurus: Actually, this is not a media trend as much as it is a Twitter trend for people to identify themselves as social media gurus. One recent study reported there are 181,000 social media gurus, ninjas and mavens on Twitter. Most of the ones we see claim to be gurus and to be able to help you generate thousands of followers – yet, anecdotally, many so-called gurus have relatively few followers themselves.
    • Media relations: Social media is no longer just for early-adopting B2B companies but media relations continues to be important. By the end of the decade, both media relations and social media will converge into a single integrated effort.
  • Ongoing stories we’ll see covered in the media. Each year we provide a list of stories the media will continue to cover, which include:
    • The implementation and implications of Obama care: What works, what doesn't; why it will take years to achieve its goals, why it won't achieve its goals; how healthcare delivery systems need to be revamped -- whatever your political beliefs and personal experiences, you can bet that you can see it expressed in an op-ed article somewhere and then countered by letters to the editor.
    • Gun control laws: Another very hot button political issue that will continue to generate coverage throughout the year. Also expect that reform of our mental health system to get a lot of coverage. (What hasn't received coverage to date is that part of the reason the mental health system was dismantled in the 1960s and 1970s was due to costs, not just abuses against patients in the system. The costs and privacy issues related to mental health reform should generate some coverage in 2013.)
    • Deficits, spending cuts, taxes, etc.: As with healthcare, expect that editorial and op-ed pages as well as political radio and TV shows will be littered with opposing perspectives of the steps the country should take. Debate may be worthwhile but don't expect Congress to be any less dysfunctional.
    • Made in the USA: bringing back manufacturing jobs to the US. As costs in India, China, Russia and Brazil increase, expect that the benefits out offshore outsourcing may decline enough to make it more attractive to bring some manufacturing back home. Look for stories about small manufacturers whose business is growing as a result.
    • Cybercrime and cyberwarfare: We said this was a growing issue in 2012, and we maintain that's the case for the rest of the decade. There will be a lot of articles about China as a source for cyberespionage and policy articles about how the U.S. should protect itself from its largest creditor. Expect regular front-page coverage about the latest exploits against the U.S. and U.S. companies. A big concern: our security and intelligence agencies don't have enough trained personnel to protect against and prevent cyber attacks against the U.S. and American businesses; and they lack the resources to fully identify and prosecute cybercriminals. We also expect to see a rise in the number of stories about cyberstalking and “revenge porn,” where jilted exes post incriminating (and often false) information as a way to get back at former spouses, lovers, and friends.
    • Privacy: Usually to be filed as Facebook and privacy, and what consumers should do to protect their privacy. But, despite the recent news that Kim Kardashian is quitting her reality show because she's ready to keep some aspects of her life private, expect two things: 1) Kardashian and boyfriend Kanye West will not keep photos of their soon-to-be born baby under wraps; and 2) Most of the rest of us will continue to abridge our own privacy by posting comments, updates and photos on a growing range of social media platforms.
    • Salaries paid women vs. men. There were a few articles percolating in 2012 that men continue to get paid more than women for the same jobs. We think there’s a good chance that this issue will rightfully garner more attention in 2013.
    • Cashless payments. Last year, we said that digital wallets or e-wallets will would be mainstream by 2017. At the end of 2012, we moved that up to 2016. We continue to think there are security and behavioral, as well as technical, issues to be addressed but we do think that e-wallets that are stored in your phone make sense. We now rarely go anywhere (including, ugh, the bathroom) without our phones, and we already use our smartphones to make purchases online so it makes sense that we will forgo carrying a wallet. Key issues that remain include: There are several competing e-wallets standards being developed by often fierce competitors who in some cases are working together – but they need to find a way they can work together; you don’t want to be in a situation where your Google Wallet doesn’t work because the retailer is using Isis from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. Another key issue is the systems retailers will need to deploy to accept cashless payments; we’re not sure that Near Field Communications (NFC) readers will take off because of the additional cost to retailers. We expect the industry to solve this in order to facilitate the mainstreaming of e-wallets.
    • Crowdsourcing/daily deals: We think the media isn’t tired yet of reporting on interesting stories about companies that crowdsourced their way to success. But the bar has been raised because the fact that you’re crowdsourcing isn’t enough to generate coverage – your company has to be doing something else that’s relevant. Meanwhile, the daily deal business has lost buzz – we’re not saying it’s going away, just that there will be fewer stories about daily deal sites, with one exception. We expect coverage of Groupon from a business, management and share-price perspective.
    • Star Wars: Not the Reagan-era defense system, but the actual Star Wars. With the next installment of Star Wars expected to reach movie theatres in 2013 (assuming there will still be movies theatres, and that we're not all downloading the latest releases on our many devices), we can expect a growing number of articles and references in pop culture to JJ Abrams' next movie, including much speculation about the actors (will Harrison Ford reprise Han Solo?), the story, etc.
    • Fees: We don’t actually expect there to be a lot of coverage of how companies use fees to cover costs and raise revenues. However, we expect companies to continue to rely on fees on services they used to provide for free to boost their bottom lines.
  • Ongoing Tech Trends we expect to continue:
    • Cloud computing: This trend started in 2010 and quickly became mainstream.
    • The battle of tablets: After several years of breathless media coverage, the battle for tablet supremacy began when Apple, recognizing a vulnerability in its product line, launched the iPad Mini. Last year, we said it was a two-horse race between iPads and the Kindle Fire but expect a third player to gain traction – enter the Samsung Galaxy. This story has just begun.
    • Gaming for business:  Gaming will continue to be integrated into business and training apps to keep people engaged and entertained.
    • Big data: The media will continue to cover big data as it continues to go mainstream…until big data is supplanted by the next data trend.
    • Consumerization of enterprise apps: Enterprise apps had been hard-to-use but the mobile and BYOD trends has meant that formerly ugly enterprise apps now must be intuitive and easy to use. This push for ease of use also comes from the millennials, who expect enterprise apps to work like consumer apps.
    • Hybrid IT: Part on premise, part in the cloud: Companies need the best of both cloud computing and on-premise technology. We see this as a hot tech trends.
    • Second screens: Increasingly people watch television programs with their tablets, too, so they can comment real-time on what they’re watching. Helping customers express themselves and buy while they’re watching TV is going to be an important from a marketing perspective in the coming years.
    • Infographics: We expect companies to use infographics – visual representations of information like survey data – to make information shareable via social media but we don’t expect print media to reprint corporate inforgraphics because they typically take up too much of a user’s screen, particularly on smartphones. That doesn’t mean infographics are not worth producing, it just means B2B companies need to be realistic in terms of goals for their use.

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