Like most people with a Netflix account, I’ve been watching the story of “fake heiress” Anna Delvey brought to the screen in Inventing Anna. It’s engrossing and currently the most-watched show on the streaming platform.
The series explores the life, relationships and crimes of Anna. She posed as a German heiress and cut a swathe through New York City’s social and business scene in the mid-2010s before being busted for larceny and theft, and ending up in prison.
The series openly admits to containing some fabricated details, but the crimes Anna committed have been widely publicised.
‘Evil’ might be a stretch, but it’s clear Anna hurt, humiliated and robbed many people close to her.
The life Anna creates from nothing is mesmerising. It is a privileged life about which most can only dream – one surrounded by powerful people with money to burn.
As I watched, it struck me that Anna’s success relied on her ability to generate a convincing, albeit false, reputation.
What made Anna so successful in building her image? Three things stand out:
- She created a clear, engaging story. Elements of Anna’s story – the inaccessible trust fund, the lure of exclusivity, and being underestimated by her father and others – were repeated so often that others started believing and repeating them. In this way, they became Anna’s advocates. Most good narratives are deceptively simple, sweeping others up in the journey.
- She met all the right people. Anna built a solid network of the Big Apple’s movers and shakers. She targeted people, then targeted their connections and mapped all the stakeholders who would help her get ahead and bring her business to life. Anna was a highly skilled networker and understood too well the nuances of good stakeholder engagement.
- She was a brilliant communicator. Anna communicated her story to the right people and promoted herself and her business idea repeatedly. It didn’t matter that her life story was a lie nor that her business idea was built on shaky foundations. She believed her own disinformation and displayed utter self-belief in doing so. Her ability to communicate and promote her ideas was so compelling that those from whom she needed something believed in her too.
It would be easy to dismiss Anna’s story as “completely true… except for all the parts that are totally made up”, but we’d be overlooking some valuable insights. Insights which are applicable to anyone looking to build a reputation – although, this writer would hope, for more ethical reasons.
Now I just need to marvel at out how Anna managed to steal that private jet…