After you've come up with a scheme (see the "Brainstorming Suggestions" document for some tips on getting the juices flowing), you'll have to start figuring out how to carry it out. Here are some pointers for developing and executing a press-getting project around an activist cause. Note that every project is different, so this list should be taken with a grain of salt.
- Start simple! It takes a lot of time and energy to do one of these projects, so don’t bite off too much all at once. What’s the absolute minimum your project needs to succeed? Is it a video? A press release? Whatever that first step is, focus on that. If your project requires too many many parts for you to pull it off right now, it may not be quite the right idea. Back to the drawing board!
- On the other hand, once you’ve got a good simple core, don't be afraid to add complexity; just expect that some of it to be ignored or forgotten. Often the complexity can grab journalists' attention, even if it doesn’t get reported on (“a sophisticated hoax” is a well-worn news phrase).
- When in doubt, just do something. So long as it makes some sense, better to do something than to get paralyzed thinking of a big project. Don't be too ambitious all at once, if you find it slowing you down. You can always get it right on the second try, and you’ll learn a whole lot in the process.
- Also, don’t get so caught up in the issue you forget to keep it really funny, weird, and inventive. The goal is to get people laughing at evildoers. Consider including funny elements—costumes, weird effects, etc.—but nothing that doesn't make sense and/or that tips off too clearly your target that it's a fake (this is a very big gray area, obviously). The idea is to make funny stuff that a secondary audience (viewing the video of the action, or reading your press releases) will enjoy and understand, but that will not clobber the primary audience over the head so that they chase you into the parking lot. (That happened to the Yes Men, once. It wasn’t pretty.)
- That said, you might want to consider connecting with other people who work on the goal your project is concerned with and brainstorming or consulting with them, maybe even at the beginning. The Action Switchboard can help with that. People who spend all their time thinking about your issue may be in a good position to help make sure your project leads to the goal. One reason to make sure it fully makes sense is so that it continues to carry your enthusiasm and energy, of which you'll need a certain amount! You'll have to have faith it's truly worth doing. And unless you’re a religious or free-market fanatic, or funded by a big corporation, that means you’ll have to keep thinking about it.
A few things you might want to think about once or twice at some point:
- Make sure you're not accidentally making the enemy's point for them, or giving the enemy too much obvious fuel. If you are, often a very slight rejiggering is all the idea needs so that you’re still undermining your target, not just adopting their voice.
- Make sure your project reveals something false in the news, or highlights something under-reported, and isn’t just about something everyone knows anyhow. If it is about something everyone knows, it should reveal it in a new light, or at the very least amplify it.
- Make sure that your project somehow feeds into the longer campaign goal of your activist partner, if you have one.
- Make sure the project doesn’t add anything false to the news for long, unless it’s completely innocuous. Creating lasting fake stories is what the advertising, PR, and lobbying industries are all about.
- Try to pick the most powerful, nefarious target you can find—certainly make sure it’s much more powerful than yourself or those you’re working with. Never go after those who weaker, or people helping those weaker, even if you think that they’re wrong, stupid, or both.
Once everyone feels good about the overall plan (which you should sketch out as explicitly as you can, even if you know it’ll change in the future), start working on its various components at once. Stress, first, those components that are essential for the project to get carried out. For a fake conference appearance, the list of necessities might look like:
- getting the invite to the conference, or figuring out how to do so,
- registering and setting up the fake website,
- collecting emails of journalists to send press releases to,
- writing the text of any speech or press releases (a first draft immediately is a good idea if possible, as revisions will usually help),
- setting up any fake press conferences that have to happen,
- essential costumes.
When you feel the basics are underway, you can work on extra components to make it even better—e.g.
- a Powerpoint presentation,
- an animation,
- a video,
- more funny costumes,
- a press conference if it's not a key component above,
- a Video News Release.
Follow up on the action with the "reveal" press release. (This is what distinguishes this kind of fakery from the multi-billion-dollar public relations industry fakery: we reveal the ruse!) You might actually want to sketch out your press release first; that can help you make sure that your idea makes sense. Or you can start writing "reveal" releases in your head as a test to see whether embryonic ideas are worth developing. A few tips on the reveal release:
- Use the reveal to drive home the points you want to make and to offer spokespeople for media appearances to media sources.
- Also, make sure you’ve prepared a clear “ask,” what you’re asking people who hear about your action to do; this will normally be on a separate campaign page or website your “reveal” press release points to.
- You might want to wait a few hours, or even a night, between the action and the "reveal," to give journalists a chance to do some legwork to figure out who did it and how. Journalists enjoy legwork, and they enjoy breaking stories ahead of everyone else.
- Never let any false information you created remain out there longer than a couple of hours, unless it’s really innocuous. Your goal is to cut through falsehood, not create more!
There’s more, of course! But the key is: get started!