Anna Sugg ’12 remembers when she first got interested in politics. “When I was in fifth grade, our teacher gave us this assignment where she had a worksheet and we had to watch the Bush Gore debate. You had to watch thirty minutes to fill out the sheet. I watched the whole two hours.” A decade and a half later, Sugg is watching the election cycle from a decidedly different vantage point than her parents’ St. Louis living room floor. Named as the Republican National Committee’s Director of Television in February 2015, Sugg is on the ground in Washington, DC in a hands-on, pivotal role. “During debates, I handle the network credentialing process, which is a process, let me tell you. There are so many back end logistics that go into a debate that I had no idea about until I started doing it.” This pronouncement is representative of the work ethic, adaptability, and talent that has landed Sugg not just her RNC job, but a spot on the Huffington Post’s Most-Influential Women in 2016 Election Media list—all less than five years after graduating Furman.
Sugg credits much of her direction and success to being raised in a close-knit family. Her St. Louis upbringing was “very faith based and very family focused.” While her parents, Reed and Janet, held Anna and her younger brother Matthew to high academic standards, Sugg feels much of her education happened at home as she watched her mom and dad enact the conservative values they talked about. “They just said if you are going to be for something, you need to be a part of the solution.”
Choosing to pursue politics was one thing, but it was never a part of Sugg’s plan to study at Furman, her father’s alma mater (class of ’75). She envisioned attending college closer to home, but after being encouraged by her father to check out Furman, she “was hooked after the first visit. I loved it. I loved the atmosphere. I loved the political science program.” Once at Furman, she rose to the challenge of her heavy academic course load as a political science and communication studies double major. “You know how they say you can have sleep, academics, or social life—pick two? I found that very true at Furman. I just didn’t sleep! I was like, this is not sustainable. But, it was also a life lesson and work ethics training for how much I’ve had to put into things outside of college.”
A conversation with Sugg is apt to make one feel like a slacker. Even at the tail end of a jam packed fourteen hour workday, she is warm, engaging, and considerate. She is articulate without coming across as artificial, a criticism easily leveled at many in her industry, and she projects a mature confidence that belies her twenty-six years. It’s tempting to look at all of this—the poise, the energetic assurance—and, coupled with where she is now, assume that her trajectory to her current role was a linear one, but her journey from graduation to the political world was a lot less straightforward than she imagined. “For someone who knew what industry I wanted to be in from age fourteen, the whole path to getting there was actually nothing like what I had planned in my head.”
Immediately after graduation, Sugg joined the Romney presidential campaign on the recommendation of connections forged during her days as an undergraduate intern in DC. “Three weeks after I graduated, I got the job. Three weeks after that, I moved to Boston and I worked for six months at Romney headquarters. That was when I realized I really liked media relations, because I took whatever job they gave me.” Sugg describes her time there as both “crazy experience” and a “really big crash course.” Despite learning the ins and outs of her radio booking job on the fly, she and her team became so skilled, they eventually booked “over two thousand interviews in two weeks” during an especially crucial point in the campaign, something she calls a “crowning achievement.” The job, however, was not for the faint of heart: “[it] demanded your whole life. You’re working from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed, seven days a week. And then, all of the sudden, it was over.”
Imagine the horrifying stillness after the constant motion of a presidential campaign. After Romney backed out of the race, Sugg found herself abruptly unemployed. “I moved from Boston to DC and tried to find a job, but after the 2012 election, the government didn’t change at all. There really were not many jobs for someone who had six months of professional work experience and not much else.” Sugg, not ready to give up on DC, got a job in retail to stay afloat while she continued her search. Just a couple of months after that, she landed an entry level position at Fox News as a guest greeter. “It sounds like you wave to people as they come in, but it’s more intensive than that,” she says. However, the salary of neither job was enough to quit the other, so Sugg began what would be a year long hustle of working both, almost every day. She would start her day at Fox at 6 a.m. and leave at 2 p.m. Her retail shift started at 3 p.m. and wrapped at 10 p.m. “I did that while I worked my way up in the booking department to the point where I was assigned my own segments and producing some of my own stuff. I was making really great connections. I was working sixteen hour days and was on my feet all the time. I spent Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve at my desk twice. I worked most every weekend for two years. But,” she says, “you do what you need to do.”
Sugg asserts that while in college, she never had the existential quandary of purpose that seems to be a requisite part of millennial adolescence. “I never had a crisis moment, like what am I doing with my life?” However, when asked if she ever had a moment of doubt during this particular post-Romney, pre-RNC chapter of her career, when opportunities were scarce and continuing struggle certain, Sugg recalls a conversation with her mother. “I asked: ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ And she said, ‘don’t you dare start questioning yourself now!’” One of her father’s favorite quotes also came to her mind whenever she felt uncertainty: “My dad always used to say, and it would drive me crazy— ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.’ And so, there is no ‘maybe this is wrong, maybe I should find something else, maybe I should give up.’ That’s never an acceptable answer as a Sugg.”
After a year working both jobs, Sugg was able to quit the retail position to focus entirely on Fox, and also her next move. Her reputation as a workhorse would come in handy when the Director of Television position became available at RNC. “As a guest greeter at Fox, I met everyone on TV because I was the one who handled the guests. So a lot of the regulars, I would talk to for like twenty minutes a week for two years. You get to know people pretty well, and the fact that I was working those two jobs gave me a credibility I could not have gotten any other way. How people know your reputation or recommend you is huge, and that’s actually how I got my RNC job.”
Shifting from Fox News to RNC was bittersweet, but Sugg was exhilarated by the opportunity to be back in the hustle and bustle of the election cycle again. “I loved my job at Fox, but I was itching to get back on the campaign trail. This is perfect, because I get to be in the middle of the campaign cycle for its entirety, no matter which candidate wins.” Sugg’s days as the RNC’s Director of Television never look exactly the same, but she tends to start her day early, usually squeezing in a workout before diving into the morning shows. “My job is to stay on top of the news cycle, to know which hosts are saying what, how things are going, who the guests are. I try to be in the office by 7:30 a.m. I have a morning email I send reporters, anchors, everybody on my TV press list, because I know what it’s like to be a segment producer. I know what they might need to cover politics that day.” Other duties include correcting the record, managing interview requests, and generally staying on top of being many people’s point of contact for the entire RNC.
What Sugg loves about her job is also what makes it challenging. “I know that what I’m doing makes a difference, as cheesy as that sounds. I know what I do now makes a difference on a national scale.” However, “when it comes to impact on a national scale, you realize that mistakes can be big mistakes, so you just can’t make them.” While it took some time to get used to the pressure, Sugg revels in feeling totally suited to her job. “My personality has really helped. I am extremely outgoing. I think I am one hundred percent extroverted. I have an uncanny ability to remember people’s names.” And while she does not have much time for “work life balance” with her fourteen hour days, she prioritizes friends in her rare free time and is something of a “coffee addict,” with at least four regular coffee shop haunts. She cops to a love for dancing of all kinds from salsa to swing, and pencils in weekend getaways to the beach or a winery whenever possible.
Another characteristic that sets Sugg apart is something that can be read between the lines of what she says. She is tenacious, and willing to adjust if things do not go according to plan. This adaptability has served her well so far, and will come in handy this November. “Something that I’ve realized in this whole process, looking back from where I am now, is that it has not gone according to plan. With this job, I am totally focused on getting through November, knowing that with the election, there is a finish line.” Sugg’s ultimate dream would be to work for a lawmaker on Capitol Hill, and while that’s something she aspires to, “I’m just getting to November and seeing where the next place takes me.” However, it seems reasonable to imagine Anna Sugg on the Hill, because giving up is never an answer if you are a Sugg.