The Dotcom saga took two dramatic new twists this week with the emergence of the Megaupload founder as the latest (and strangest?) New Zealand folk hero, and the judgement by Chief High Court judge Helen Winkelmann that search warrants used in the raid on his home were invalid and that the raid was therefore improper.
I said back in May, following one of his initial court appearances, that whoever was handling the big man’s media was working wonders.
Having heard little from him until that stage, we got tears in court and then this:
“It’s just remembering what happened to us which I think was unfair and over the top. It just got to me. I’m just a human being, you know?”
For all I know he may be working his profile all on his lonesome ownsome. Which would be impressive. Or there may indeed be no ‘work’ involved – it may all be the result of a totally unplanned and instinctive display of empathy and talent. Which would make the results even more remarkable.
As a starter for ten, here are my observations about some of the PR aces he’s played since the “Osama Bin-Laden-style” raid on his home by New Zealand Police and FBI agents. What are your thoughts? What else do you think he’s done really well?
1) Bided his time
Apart from a single interview with the New Zealand Herald really early on in the piece, we didn’t hear much from Kim from the time of his arrest in January until his pool party on 24 June. Whether deliberately or instinctively, he cannily built on his previously non-existent public profile to create a scarcity value for himself within the media.
2) Chosen his moment
Was it a coincidence that Kim’s Twitter-fuelled ‘coming out’ party with Gracewood, Barbosa, Davies and the boys (see #4 below) happened immediately before Justice Winkelmann’s bombshell?
Or did Kim know instinctively that his charm offensive needed to wait until he had a couple of favourable court verdicts under his belt? Because until then, in the minds of most Kiwis, he was just an obscenely wealthy immigrant with a ‘colourful’ past and questions around the propriety of his residence visa?
He would probably have known that our predilection for felling tall poppies is rivalled only by our national sense of fair play and a sensitivity to any perception that some other nation is exerting undue influence in Wellington or meddling with our internal processes.
It’s only a short leap from there to the realisation that any resentment of Kim’s flashy lifestyle and obnoxious behaviour would be well and truly neutralised by his status as a victim of unbridled bureaucracy and foreign meddling in our judicial system. And it wouldn’t hurt that he comes across as a naturally cheerful chappie who just loves living the good life. After all, we voted one of those into office as Prime Minister, didn’t we?
3) Switched persona
Our dislike of tall poppies can be subverted and tamed for only so long, however. Once we tire of supporting the victim of injustice we’re swift to pick up the pruning shears once again. So it was essential that we got to see ‘the other Kim’.
Right on cue, again either instinctively or as the result of a plan, out came pictures of the loving husband, devoted father and sensitive soul:
Tantalising insights to the private life of this warm-hearted softie provided balance and context to offset images we’ve been fed until now of the fast-living, hard-driving boorish playboy and his multi-million dollar lifestyle.
These complemented the other snippets of personal information we’d managed to glean through a very limited range of favoured media outlets (there’s that scarcity value at work again), such as his ambition to record his own music.
And all of a sudden, hey presto! Our boy became a Kiwi folk-hero:
We’ve had way less of this:
And way more of this:
Understandably, I guess, given the nature of the charges against him. But the ‘sober’ alter-ego has been noticeable by its prominence, retiring to the background only briefly for the duration of that pool party…
4) Made useful friends
If I had to pick three media and technology cognoscenti best placed to help spread the message that Kim’s a jolly good fellow, I really could not have bettered his list of bathing buddies for his impromptu but highly publicised pool party last Sunday.
Even I’m not sufficiently cynical to believe the liaison was planned (one look at the Twitter exchange between Kim and his three new-found mates would scotch any such thoughts) but it is remarkable how Kim, who opened a Twitter account only five days before the swim-a-long, has harnessed the power of social media to garner support from a wide cross-section of NZ society.
And remarkable that this wave of popular support should be generated just days before the emergence of the Winkelmann judgement. Again, whether this was instinctive or planned is a moot point – it’s PR genius.
5) Selected his battlefield
It’s remarkable, too, how the media circus generated by the boys in bathers has created a springboard for a veritable smorgasbord of Kim. A charm blitzkrieg the likes of which I’ve not seen before. Ever. In a career spanning two and a half decades and four continents.
Kim here. Kim there. Kim everywhere. Attending television show recordings, on Campbell Live, at a meeting of the Coatesville Ratepayers and Residents’ Association, supporting the launch of an Auckland IT business, even at the ultimate of lost (but popular with influential media types) causes – a rally to ‘save’ TVNZ7…
Hell, even his lawyer’s got in on the act:
The global internet entrepreneur with the flashy globe-trotting lifestyle but a near-zero public profile in New Zealand is now everywhere, it seems.
Regardless of its provenance, Dotcom’s positioning has been pure poetry. He has, so far, delivered a masterclass in relationship development and reputation management. I effuse admiration and respect – hats off to you, mein Herr.
If it’s instinctive, we have here raw and true PR talent. If it’s planned, it’s been planned impeccably and facilitated, or even enabled, almost exclusively by Kim’s undoubtedly genuine empathy and the power of his personality.
I wish him well. I think he’s a decent bloke who loves life and lives it to its fullest (who can blame him?) He’s personable and there’s no doubt that he’s smart and astute. And I suspect he may have copped a very raw deal.
Like thousands of others I’m intrigued to see what happens next. Not least because I want to see how he prepares for the backlash, and how he avoids leaving us with the feeling that somehow – ever so gently and ever so nicely – we’re being manipulated.