12 Communication Tips You Can Learn From Monopoly
This year marks the 80th anniversary of Parker Brothers' launch of the game. So it seemed a fine time to round up some wisdom that communicators have accumulated while playing the beloved board game devoted to bankrupting your closest friends and family.
1. Listen to your fans.
Working for Hasbro, which now makes Monopoly, has taught Jen DeAngelis the importance of listening to one's fans—and thinking creatively to keep an 80-year-old brand relevant.
"It's still the world's favorite family gaming brand—more people are playing it now than ever before," DeAngelis says. "Hasbro has been able to maintain its popularity by tapping into what our fans are saying and giving them the opportunity to let their voices be heard, and often even make changes to the game."
In 2013, fans voted the cat to be the newest Monopoly token, and the iron token was retired, DeAngelis notes. (Now wait a minute. The iron was my favorite.)
Hasbro crowdsourced new house rules for the Monopoly game in 2014. This year, the game company teamed with Buzzfeed and asked fans to choose which cities around the world would be featured as property spaces in the new Monopoly Here & Now games.
2. Be strategic.
You stand forewarned: Heath Fradkoff, principal and founder of Ward 6 Marketing, is a ruthless Monopoly player. "My wife won't play with me anymore," he laments. Therefore, heed his advice that Boardwalk and Park Place aren't necessarily the best properties to own. It's better to go for cheaper, better-positioned properties.
"The PR lesson here is that sure, everyone wants to be in The New York Times, but you may be better off trying for other placements that can have bigger bang in valuable ways," he says.
3. Apply creativity to templates.
Heinz Ketchup Monopoly. Dachshund Monopoly. Grateful Dead-Opoly. Narnia Monopoly.
Monopoly demonstrates how much creativity can be applied to a standard format. Hasbro has over 300 licensed versions of the game in a variety of categories. So why don't the rest of us get a little more creative within the templates of our newsletters, press releases, employee emails and (since you mention it) Ragan listicles? Next time I'll use Roman numerals.
4. Bob and weave.
Markstein Associate Director Lyndsey Lewis adds that your strategy is a marathon, not a sprint. Other players might ruin your plans as you seek to collect color-matched property or all the railroads.
"While strategy is important," Lewis says, "being able to bob and weave when plans change is integral to winning monopoly, as well as being successful as a communications professional."
5. Remember that the old way isn't always the right way.
I fondly recall those Monopoly games that stretched for hours when I was a child waiting up for midnight on New Year's Eve or days when I was a teen camping in New South Wales. But many of us also recall playing a Monopoly game that lasted so long that the only way to end it was to turn over the board, says Shannon Ramlochan, online community services specialist for ProfNet.
Some time ago, a BuzzFeed piece went viral because someone realized that most people were playing it wrong, she says. For Ramlochan this was an "Ah-ha!" demonstrating that "the way we've traditionally done things in the industry hasn't always been right."
What!? In Monopoly? It's supposed to be cutthroat capitalism at its most ruthless. There was a time when J. Edgar Hoover would have opened an FBI file on anyone making such a suggestion.
Fradkoff insists, however, that you can make deals that are mutually beneficial, such as exchanging deeds or allowing rent-free stops on your properties. In PR terms, be open to collaborating with other PR teams—your client's or partners' communications people and even other agencies. He says, "By working with those around you, you can crush other opponents."
When Fradkoff collaborates, it gets ruthless.
7. Don't overextend.
Monopoly tempts players to overextend themselves, which can leave you at risk, warns Dorothy Crenshaw of Crenshaw Communications.
"Similarly, on the agency side, we don't want to focus on a single large client at the expense of others, and when running a PR program, it's not wise to focus on a single costly tactic," she says.
8. Study your rivals.
Monopoly is, in many ways, a depiction of real life; in other ways, it's a distortion, says Rich Pacheco, vice president and director of finance at Ketchum Global Research & Analytics. Watch your opponents actions and decisions, down to the slightest nuance, he says.
"Pay attention to whether they choose to be the race car or the thimble—understanding these basic choices will tell you a lot about who your competition is or want they aspire to be and how their strategy will play out in the game of Monopoly or life," he says.
9. Broaden your skills.
In Monopoly, a good player understands the importance of holding a range of properties: railroads, utilities, hotels and houses, says Isoke Salaam of Isoke Salaam PR. A PR pro's skills are like that.
"Be well versed in branding, writing, social media, pitching, event execution and relationship building," Salaam says. "An excellent publicist is able to mix all of these actions."
10. Bide your time.
"If there's one lesson PR pros can learn from the game Monopoly, it's patience," says Chad Reid, director of communications at JotForm.
"Monopoly takes nuance, skill, and lots of time. So does effective public relations, he says. "Winning Monopoly is like winning a strategic PR campaign; winning chess is like running a successful advertising campaign."
11. Monitor the board.
See which properties have been picked up, which ones complete a monopoly for the other players, and which ones could be trouble for you, suggests Fradkoff. Landing on and buying these properties—even if you must mortgage your own or sell houses to make the sale—can pay out later.
"It's the same in communications," he says. "Identify news and opportunities by value: How does the media landscape affect your clients' or organization's goals? Look for ways to take advantage of trends. Simply put: Pay attention."
12. Celebrate successes.
"Celebrate when you pass 'GO,'" says Christy Marion of Media Frenzy Global. "For communications pros, it's important to celebrate small milestones and achievements. You made it around the board and have a new opportunity on the next go-around to do things differently."
Russell Working is a staff writer at Ragan Communications.