Johnny vs. Amber: A Master Class in Public Relations

BY MELANIE REITER, SR. MEDIA RELATIONS COORDINATOR AT DEFINITION 6

A glimpse behind Hollywood’s curtain wasn’t the only thing on display at the Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trial. We were also given a front-row seat to a master class in the power of PR to drive public opinion, taught by Team Johnny. Thanks to a carefully orchestrated combination of timing, social media, and perception shaping, Depp managed to reclaim some of his past fame, generating more media attention than he’s received in nearly a decade.  

Even those of us who don’t follow the world of celebrity know that Johnny Depp was one of the most beloved leading men in Hollywood. That is, he was until abuse allegations surfaced against him in 2016. Since then, he’s essentially been blacklisted in the industry. 

However, since the start of the trial, opinions seem to have softened towards the beleaguered star, with the social media hashtag #johnnydeppisinnocent receiving over 1.4 billion views on TikTok. So, what changed? The constant media attention the trial garnered certainly helped, but Johnny Depp has been the beneficiary of what Justin Ali (founder of CherryRed PR, an Australia-based PR agency that deals exclusively with international celebrities and influencers) calls, “a premium display of the finest of PR.” 

At no time is a well-choreographed PR strategy more needed than in a time of crisis. And when it comes to navigating a crisis, timing is everything. The difference between emerging unscathed (or even stronger) and crashing and burning begins with timing. In this case, Depp’s team waited to bring the suit for years, allowing time for negative sentiment to fade. With memories hazy, and the world emerging from the pandemic, the timing of his suit allowed him to better position himself as victim instead of perpetrator. 

Social media is another example of his well-managed PR strategy. As the case snowballed, the internet became flooded with viral content, which has tended to favor Depp. A few examples of online sentiment being: 

Lessons from Team Johnny 

Ultimately, where Team Johnny truly excelled was in their ability to manage and even change perception. Throughout the case and currently, they have worked to reestablish the actor as a relevant and desirable person. “There is an element to Johnny’s testimonies that are tied to his personality, but for the most part, a trained PR eye would see more of preparation than temperament; the measured words, the slow responses and the stoic adherence to script. It is an interesting phenomenon to watch how Johnny has almost totally rebuilt his reputation…” — Ali  

So, what does this mean for those of us in the business of managing brands and their reputations? Plenty! Despite the ugly evidence presented on both sides, Johnny Depp won, not just in the courtroom, but in the larger—and arguably more lucrative—court of public opinion. 

Whatever communications crisis a client may be going through, a great PR agency’s goal should always be to build, rebuild, and maintain their client’s reputation at all costs before, during, and after the crisis. In the end, reputation can matter more than reality, and that’s one takeaway we can all agree upon. 

Trading mountains for skyscrapers, Melanie Reiter ventured from San Diego to NYC to take on her Sr. Coordinator role with the media relations team at DEFINITION 6. Her knack for storytelling, project development, and relationship-building prepares her for a lifelong career in the industry. During the days starting with an ‘S’ she loves to explore the city, catch her favorite music artists live in concert, or chillax with her fur child named Kaya. 

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