New Anna Wintour Biography Reminds Us What Business Leaders Can Learn From Her Decades of Perseverance

A new biography of Vogue editor Anna Wintour is receiving mixed reviews, but there’s no question that the iconic fashion magazine editor has had a decades-long wild ride that has repeatedly tested her resilience and perseverance. While “Anna: The Biography” by Amy Odell was praised for revelations about Wintour’s high-pressure industry, the chief complaint from critics is that little insight is given into what truly makes Wintour tick.

This is the same formidable fashion industry figure who went on to thrive after being depicted as the boss from hell in “The Devil Wears Prada,” which some argued was a fictional novel and others considered a roman à clef – as it was authored by Wintour’s former Vogue assistant Lauren Weissberger. The sentiment following the book’s best-seller status: Wintour would never claw her way back after the book’s highly negative portrayal.

From a PR standpoint, some firmly believed this had the potential to kill Wintour’s career, but she went on to successfully elevate Vogue’s brand at a time when print magazines were relegated to a digital afterlife. Wintour also went on to teach a masterclass. She even interviewed Meryl Streep, who played Miranda Priestly, the thinly veiled hellacious character purportedly based on her in Weissberger’s novel. This interview was featured on Vogue’s video blog and earned millions of views, endearing Wintour to an international audience.

Image-makers love to hypothesize about Wintour’s secret for reversing the judgment of the court of public opinion. And this is something she succeeds in accomplishing repeatedly. If that is something that cannot be gleaned from Odell’s accounts, we can certainly look to the formidable editor’s past actions – and reactions – for insight.

What “The Devil Wears Prada” Teaches Us About PR

How a public person reacts to criticism and speculation is crucial.

When the movie version of “The Devil Wears Prada” debuted,  “Anna came to the first screening in New York,” screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna told Entertainment Weekly in 2021. “She sat right in front of me and [director] David [Frankel] with her daughter and wore Prada, which shows she has a great sense of humor!” Wintour’s publicist would later be asked what the editor thought of the movie, to which he responded: “She thought it was very entertaining. It was satire.”

Resilience Is Key to Perseverance

By embracing the situation with humor and not giving negativity credence, Wintour made light of what could have dragged her down. Her response of “being in on the joke” underscored that, to her, the book and movie were entertaining works of fiction, and she would carry on. And she did move on. In devoting her attention to excellence at Vogue, she shifted focus away from gossip-fueled public scrutiny and didn’t comment on any that persisted.

And Many Have Changed Their Opinions of Anna Wintour

The public often takes things at face value when presented with a salacious book, but upon further exploration, discerning individuals – and journalists do their due diligence. Buzzfeed noted 13 blatantly disconcerting flaws in the character of Andy (Miranda Priestly’s suffering assistant) and questioned her account. The article elaborated on why Andy is a spoiled 20-something, exuding millennial-style white privilege and not willing to tough it out for a prestigious opportunity.

Anna Wintour As a Hip-Hop Icon?!

Yes, you read that correctly! Wintour has been referenced in several songs by popular artists, including Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, Childish Gambino, and Azealia Banks –  who wrote a song titled “Anna Wintour.”  Banks said she regards Wintour as a “master of masters” and explained: “I relate to Anna Wintour so much as a strong, powerful and larger-than-life soul in a petite, tidy and feminine body. While others may see Anna as intimidating, I see a woman who was born into this world with [an] absolute certainty about her place in it.”

What Business Leaders Can Learn From Anna Wintour

Anna Wintour serves as a great example to business leaders facing intense scrutiny. Here are a few lessons that can be gleaned from her actions through the decades:

Pick yourself up by your bootstraps, and don’t get bogged down by a bad review.

  • After a public mistake, focus on enhancing a product or revising an approach. Don’t avoid an apology when issuing one is necessary; during BLM, for example, when Wintour was criticized for not amplifying Black voices or featuring Black creators, she issued a thoughtful memo promising to change things at Vogue and has kept her word.

Don’t let the world laugh at you, laugh with them… then MOVE ON!

  • After facing intense scrutiny, poke fun at yourself, and the world will respect you and enjoy your sense of humor, seeing it as an endearing quality and allowing you to forge ahead with the important work you need to accomplish.

It’s not about being liked!

  • So many of us want everyone’s approval, but successful people learn not to harp on the fact that some dislike them. Everyone loves a great redemption story, not hearing about someone forever ruminating on their mistakes – or becoming a recluse to avoid further criticism.

Life is full of hurdles, and Wintour has taught us we must rise above them rather than bury our heads in the sand. That is the only way to triumph, something she has managed to do for decades.

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About the author

Shira Weiss is a Director of Content at Bospar Public Relations. Shira has promoted a variety of organizations in B2B and consumer technology. She has worked both in-house and in technology-focused PR agencies, specializing in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and HR and financial/banking technologies. Her work has consisted of PR and marketing content production, crafting bylined articles, pitches, press kit materials and website and social copy. Weiss also worked as a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and as a freelance writer for multiple newspapers and news websites.

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