Report Card on “Eight Boston-Based Trends for 2018”

Norman Birnbach, President, Birnbach Communications

As we approach the end of the year, it’s time to look at the Boston-based trends we published at the start of 2018.

It’s been a long-standing agency tradition to identify media, marketing and tech trends we think will be important for clients in the upcoming year. Before we get to predictions for next year, we always start by evaluating how we did in the current year, to learn from our mistakes as much as we hope clients have taken advantage of the trends we correctly identified. 

For the first time, in 2018, we issued a subset of predictions in an article for called “8 Boston-Based Trends for 2018,” based on the idea that it can be worth looking how national trends play out regionally, where the local economy, culture, resources, etc. have an impact. This article serves as a report card of sorts for those trends we identified for Boston. (We will issue similar report cards for the media and tech trends we published on, too.) We picked Boston because it is a hub for marketing and technology. We may pick a different metro area for 2019. 

In the meantime, here’s how we did with Boston-based trends:

  1. The “retailpocalypse” will to continue hit Massachusetts.  We were right in predicting that 2018 would be tough for big mall-based retailers, both nationally and in Massachusetts. But we did not make a distinction about the health of smaller, in-town stores, which remain open. It seems that mall stores that compete more directly with Amazon are in trouble while local stores may still survive because of they tend to offer better service and develop stronger customer relationships. Grade: B+ because we did not make enough distinction between big mall-based retailers.
  2. The media landscape is changing. So far this national trend has not affected Massachusetts as much as we thought, as with GateHouse’s acquisition of the Boston Herald. But we were right that in saying, “Traditional and online media will continue to search for sustainable business models, which, unfortunately, they are unlikely to do in 2018.” Grade: B.
  3. 2018 will be a good year for artificial intelligence and robotics. Mostly that’s been the case for local AI and robotics companies that help customers to automate processes (consumer robotics still have a long way to go, other than Roombas). There were exceptions, like pioneer ThinkRobots, which recently shut down. We expect Boston to continue to be a hub for AI and robotics. Grade: B+.
  4. Self-driving cars will continue to be tested …elsewhere. We said, “Don’t expect Boston to be an early test market…(because) no one knows if, looking for open parking spots during snow emergencies, sensors in self-driving cars will be able to detect trash cans, traffic cones or folder chairs being used as space savers by local resident (except in the South End).” Grade: A.
  5. The number of workers in the local gig economy will grow. The new tax law was supposed to push more people into owners of their own businesses that operate in the gig economy but a year later, we don’t know if that’s true yet, and there hasn’t been much media coverage of this, either way. Further, even as we’re sure more people are in the gig economy, there are no real numbers to document that – which is, in itself, a problem. Grade: C+ because there’s no way to document that this had an impact locally.
  6. Amazon won’t select Boston for its HQ2. Boston made Amazon’s short list but we said to not expect Boston to be chosen. As of publication time, Amazon still has not selected a city for its HQ2 so technically we got that right in 2018 (unless Amazon decides in November or December). Grade: A.
  7. Job shortages affect range of fields. We said there’s strong local demand for people withAI or biotech skills. We stand by our recommendation that the state must put “more emphasis on STEM education.” But there’s a shortage in non-tech fields, too, like a lack of caregivers as Massachusetts projects a 43-percent increase in the number of residents aged 65 and older. Grade: B+.
  8. Expect turbulence in the nonprofit sector. We have not seen any media coverage to support our prediction that, under the new tax law, charitable donations would drop. That said, we still think nonprofits, including colleges, need to find ways to make sure to engage with and be connected to their donors. Grade: Incomplete.

Overall, we scored a 2.9 or a B/B- for local Boston trends that touch on marketing, business and technology. 

For those in and around Boston, we think it is important to look at how you may be able to leverage these trends by developing marketing campaigns to position your organization as a thought leader. For those outside Boston, we think the value is in taking a local lens to see how those trends may play out in your key markets so that you can anticipate and develop ways to leverage them on behalf of local employees, customers and partners.

Norman BirnbachAbout the Author: Norman Birnbach is the president of Birnbach Communications,, a Boston-based PR and social media agency focused on thought leadership that has been issuing annual predictions for nearly two decades. His blog, PR BackTalk, provides insights and attitude about PR, journalism and traditional and social media. 


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