Making a fake press conference

Putting together a press conference on behalf of a target (who doesn’t know you’re doing it) can be very simple. You just need to set up a podium with a logo on it in front of a building and speak over a PA system of some sort to a small audience of fake reporters (plus real ones, if you can convince them to show up) and planted passers-by (then real ones who stop to see what’s going on). No forewarning needed: just turn on your sound system, start speaking, and record the whole thing.

The key here is simply to make it look good: add some flag-waving, colorful signs, a marching band, perhaps some fake protesters against your press conference—or whatever's appropriate to your context. All will contribute joy and color to an impromptu scene.

Tipping off your target so they intervene in your action—for instance, by shutting down your press conference—is a good tactic as well. When Mr. Eric Wohlschlegel of the US Chamber of Commerce interrupted our press conference (which was at the National Press Club), it was a gold mine for us, and extended the story’s longevity in the media by a good three days. But that intervention was unplanned: a real reporter received our press advisory and showed up at the Chamber instead of the National Press Club, tipping them off. We could have done this on purpose, had we known how great it would be.

Note: If you rent a room at an official venue, and if you try to invite real journalists to your conference with a Press Advisory, there are some additional considerations:

  1. You’ll have to figure out how to not tip off your target before the event, when journalists call them up to ask about the press conference. One option is to tie up the target’s phone lines all morning between the time of your Press Advisory and the event itself, with numerous calls from angry citizens. (This is what the Yes Men and their collaborators The Avaaz Action Factory did in the instance mentioned above.)
  2. It’s probably best not to let the official venue (e.g. the National Press Club) know that you’ll be posing as your target. Instead, make up a name. Then, switch the signs and logos at the last minute. (Note: In the wake of our conference at the NPC on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, the NPC changed its requirements to make it more difficult to change your name/logo. But there are, of course, many other venues.)

You’ll want to film your event in detail, with three or four cameras. This is the most important consideration! This is much more important than who’s in attendance. You shouldn’t count on coverage from real reporters—you should cover it yourself and send out the video with a press release.

  1. One camera can be a steady wide shot of the area, including the speaker(s).
  2. One can be a steady close-up on the speaker(s).
  3. Reactions of the audience are especially useful in editing a funny piece, so it’s a good idea to have one camera dedicated to getting shots of the audience reacting.
  4. One can be a roving camera that captures other stuff, especially unexpected action, as it happens.

Note:  Camera people should generally stick to their jobs - for example, the wide-shot camera shouldn’t zoom in. The close-up camera shouldn’t zoom out. The reaction camera shouldn’t show the speaker(s). But there are always exceptions.