Ad of the Day: Kristen Schaal Is the Ultimate HR Director in This Startup’s Fun Campaign

Gusto helps the company execs 'who do everything'

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Do you know what your employer's human resources director does all day? No, really. 

Behind the emails, spreadsheets and Monday morning bagel spreads beats the heart of a real person who somehow manages to control the machinations of that most difficult beast—a group of human beings forced to work together in a shared space for at least 40 hours every week. 

Gusto is a software startup created to help HR directors navigate the maze of requests, complaints and sob sessions that make up their daily routine. For its first ad campaign, it turned to newly formed San Francisco agency Erich & Kallman and actress/comedian Kristen Schaal, best known for her work on Flight of the Conchords and Last Man on Earth. 

Schaal might be the perfect person to portray the archetypal HR exec. She's cool under fire, but one senses the stress beneath her decorum could boil over at any moment and end with a trip to the psych ward. (It never does … to the great relief of her colleagues, bosses and mentees.)

The first spot in the campaign shows just how much she has on her plate: 

"[Gusto] knew they wanted to do a campaign based around someone who is head of HR; we'd been kicking around a list of names, and Kristen was high on that list," agency co-founder and creative director Eric Kallman tells Adweek. "She can solve problems and remain super likeable."

The next spot riffs on a misplaced bathroom key, and the unusual solution to the problem: 

While Kallman says the above spot did involve "exaggerating the nonstop problems [HR directors] solve," the next ad is a riff on Gusto's own company culture: The team often gives new employees balloons on their first day. 

Prior to beginning work on the campaign, Gusto organized focus groups and surveyed hundreds of HR directors across industries to get a sense of their day-to-day highs and lows.

"As we listened to everything HR admins do for their office, we realized they are truly the CEOs at work–the 'chief everything officers,'" says Gusto co-founder and CEO Josh Reeves. "The inspiration for the campaign was an HR person who juggles it all and does just about everything at the office, including watering the office plants and organizing birthday parties. You'll see elements of our research reflected in these videos." 

Of course, HR directors often have to respond to repeated requests from the usual suspects—like those who just can't seem to remember their damn passwords. 

The ad industry itself is famously challenging for HR directors.

"It was fun to write on this," says Kallman, "because if you work at smaller or mid-level agencies, this type of person exists at most of those companies. He or she does not only the expected payroll stuff but knows all the answers and does everything, really. There's someone like Zoe at every company where I've ever worked." 

For Kallman, those companies include Wieden + Kennedy, Goodby Silverstein & Partners and TBWA\Chiat\Day.


Client: Gusto

Agency: Erich & Kallman

Creative Director: Eric Kallman

Managing Director: Steve Erich

Head of Accounts: Kate Higgins

Producer: Jill Garrison

Production Company: Biscuit

Director: Clay Weiner

Director of Photography: Jon Peter

Production Designer: Kai Boydell

Executive Prodcuer: Holly Vega

Producer: Lisa Stockdale

Editorial Company: Rock Paper Scissors

Editor: Austyn Daines

Executive Producer: Helena Lee

Producer: Amanda Ornelas

Mix: Lime

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.