We let the facts do the talking.

Johnny Depp And Amber Heard: A Defamation Lawsuit Or PR Gimmick?


The scathing defamation lawsuit and countersuit followed by a real-life courtroom drama between Hollywood exes, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard was the talk of the town a few months ago. Millions of people around the world watched as it was televised daily, resulting in countless social media discussions and hundreds of viral moments.

Being a drama fanatic myself – I was hooked. The more I followed, the more obvious it became that both parties were trying to control the PR narratives outside the courtroom, in the name of litigation PR. A defamation trial turned into a full-blown ‘PR battle of exes’.

What is a litigation PR? Why does one need a litigation specialist for trial?

A good lawyer can help you win in court, while, a litigation PR pro can win you the court of public opinion! The right strategy can give a person that much-needed edge, both in terms of the case and the publicity that follows. That is exactly what Depp’s PR team did!

Reputation and brand name are what matters to win a case. So, here are 3 things to consider when integrating PR strategies to optimise litigation results in your client’s favour:

A) Speed is key

A pithy remark will often go far and wide. An hour’s delay and the other side will have beaten you to it, or in high-profile cases social media may have already gone off-message. So, it is mandatory for the PR team to get out and stay ahead in the mainstream media, monitor social media closely and correct misinformation where the influence of any publication requires it.

B) The footprint needs to be monitored

Digital footprint is everything nowadays, and it becomes imperative when stuck in a legal case that can make or break your client’s brand name. It is vital to leave your mark on how a legal case is being reported. Because, once published in the public domain, it will always be accessible.

C) Be strategic

Set up an internal team to ensure media inquiries are handled promptly and in effective manner. Putting out ‘no comment’ or responding unprepared to media queries is not wise. Create talking points for the stakeholders, so that everyone communicates clearly and in-sync.

So, now you know!


Depp had a significant advantage when the trial began – him being one of the most well-known and financially successful Hollywood stars of the past 40 years. Due to this, Depp had two benefits: money to engage the best legal teams and litigation PR experts, as well as hordes of fans.

There was an army of people pumped up in support of Depp no matter what, with millions of admirers on every continent, including organised fan clubs to manage audience and social media groups to drip feed trial news. His PR agency only needed to reach out to the gatekeepers of those social groups with classic PR tactics. And they did!

This is such a basic strategy that I myself as a PR professional utilise all the time.

The result was a deluge of social media posts supporting Depp and critising Heard and a carnival-like atmosphere outside the courthouse.

Meanwhile, Heard’s team failed to rally support for her cause from groups with similar interests, such as organisations that advocate for victims of domestic violence, making her appear isolated.

From the start, it was clear that the overwhelming substance of online traffic supported Johnny Depp. However, it was the publicity surrounding this trial – the scandal, the spectacle of a celebrity relationship breaking down – that may have had the most impact, resulting in the viral reach.

Though once all has been said and done the question still remains – was it really a high-profile countersuit gone wrong for Heard or a full-blown PR stunt played out on a mass scale by both parties?

For now, I will leave it for you to decide!

Anjali Rajvardhan is Account Manager at Cicero & Bernay Communication Consultancy, an independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the MENA region. |