- Johnny Depp and Amber Heard were both found liable of defamation following six weeks of bombshell testimony.
- It remains to be seen how the actors will recover their public images in the wake of shocking revelations during the trial.
- Heard was awarded far less in damages than Depp, and PR experts say the actress could lose out on much more career- and reputation-wise.
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard were both found liable for defamation by a Virginia jury following six weeks of testimony during a trial that captured audiences across the nation.
Jurors in the case awarded Depp $15 million in damages, and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” actor said he felt “at peace” following the verdict.
“The best is yet to come and a new chapter has finally begun,” Depp said.
Heard, however, was awarded far less in damages with $2 million, and she said the “disappointment” she felt in response to the jury’s verdict was “beyond words.”
“I am heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence, and sway of my ex-husband,” she said in a statement.
Apart from the monetary compensation from the case, public relations experts say it remains to be seen how Depp and Heard’s public images and careers respectively will fare following the bombshell trial, which was filled with shocking revelations, audio recordings, photos, and video footage from their tumultuous years-long relationship.
Evan Nierman, CEO of the global crisis PR firm Red Banyan, said in an interview with Insider that the implications of the trial are “far-reaching, and I think we’re going to see them for some time.” Nierman, the author of the PR strategy playbook “Crisis Averted,” noted that Heard has far more work cut out for her in recovering from the fallout of the trial.
“I actually think [Depp’s] career probably would’ve survived pretty well,” Nierman said. “Even if he hadn’t taken this bold step of fighting her in court, he is on another level when it comes to celebrity — he’s a star who has been the lead role in just so many iconic movies.”
“Amber Heard, on the other hand, was a virtual unknown until this trial, so this was hardly the introduction that she would’ve wanted in terms of continuing her career,” he continued. “Johnny Depp was always gonna be fine. And I think now that the verdict has come out the way that it has, that’s even more assured.”
Fred Cook, director of the Center of Public Relations at the University of Southern California, also noted that Depp had a “stronger team in his corner in a lot of different respects,” including public opinion and internet support. In early May, Heard dropped her PR team after the trial prompted backlash and a number of “bad headlines.”
“The fact that she had to change horses midstream meant that there was something wrong there,” Cook, who serves as chairman emeritus of PR firm Golin, told Insider. “It’s just like in a political campaign when you change your staff, it means something’s not happening the way you wanted to.”
“[Depp] had some smart people working for him, and I think it paid off in the long run,” Cook added. “He presented himself better, gained the sort of the moral support of the people around the court and the people watching, and [Heard] wasn’t able to garner that empathy that he did.”
Though both Depp and Heard gained popularity and infamy respectively throughout the course of the trial, Cook said the trial “was not a flattering portrayal of either one of them, particularly,” but echoed Nierman’s sentiment in that Heard’s career could have been tarnished by the trial, at least in the short-term.
“Her career opportunities will be limited because of this, at least in the short term,” Cook said. “She’ll be much more famous, but I’m not sure that it’s the type of fame that’s gonna translate into big roles in important roles in films and TV.”
Though Nierman acknowledged that the Depp-Heard trial was unique “in terms of its circumstances and the level of toxicity in the relationship,” he said the public nature of the trial could prompt other celebrities and well-known figures to second-guess their own defamation case pursuits.
“I don’t think any of us would’ve really understood the depths of depravity if we hadn’t had a look into their lives through the course of this trial — all of the text messages and the surreptitious recordings, audio and video, it painted a really dark picture of both of them and their relationship,” Nierman said.
He added: “I think a lot of celebrities who might have been inclined to step into the fray in the way that Amber did, they’re gonna think twice about it unless they have the facts to back themselves up because otherwise they could end up doing irreparable harm to their reputation and their revenue long term.”