Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Yes Men: How to Hack Corporate Culture

yes-man (noun, plural -men): someone who agrees with everything the boss says, even if it's demented, cruel, absurd, or just stupid.

The Yes Men: A group of people who target bosses they don't work for, then agree so hard with their targets that their audiences should sit up and take notice …

We call ourselves the Yes Men, and our goal is to fix the world. We even have a new film, coming out in theaters on October 22, that we've called The Yes Men Fix the World.

We'll give away the ending: we don't actually make everything better. And worse, we're now spending so much time on the distribution of this damn film that we don't even have time to do our own silly antics anymore. So: please do it for us. Steal our secrets.

What we do—and what you can do too—is impersonate captains of industry, infiltrate corporate events, give absurd and revealing presentations, and then escape to tell the story in the press, hopefully to the great embarrassment of the target.

You don't have to be a James Bond for this. You can be a bad actor, clumsy, absent minded, and even have stage fright. But what you might need a fake email address and a business card. For example, if you're representing Exxon as Luella Arschenfleck, buy a domain like and use an address like (Note: a company like Go Daddy might cancel your domain name just because it contains a well-known corporate name, so you might want to use an off-beat, less stockholder-oriented domain name company.)

Then go to a conference web site, find the page called "speaking opportunities," and sign up. If they ask for money, stall and tell them you need to pay at the door. Come up with an excuse once you're there. In Calgary, Alberta, we decided we wanted to speak as Exxon at a big oil conference, so "Gus" (—a domain we happened to own for a while, until PR powerhouse Hill & Knowlton used strong-arm tactics to get it back) wrote to the conference and told them he would get them Lee Raymond, the former chair of Exxon Mobil, who happened to be going hunting near Calgary and was interested in speaking at the conference.

Not noticing there are no forests near Calgary, the conference jumped at the chance. On the day of the event, Raymond was taken with flu, and some "assistants" showed up in his place.

The problem with promising to deliver someone famous is obvious: everyone knows who they are. So we explained that for security reasons, the conference was not allowed to say anything about him on their promotional material: we "embargoed" the information—and that's a word you can use too.

So suppose you've done it: you've secured a spot as the star speaker at a big important conference. You're all set. All you have to do is craft a talk that will shock the pants off your audience and enlighten them at the same time—or (if they just sit there and applaud, the way they always have with us) at least show the rest of the world that something is terribly wrong with the picture.

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