Before she hit advertising gold, as Progressive Insurance’s main spokesperson “Flo”, Stephanie Courtney was an every day struggling actress. One of the most successful insurance ad campaigns in commercial history could not have happened to a luckier person.
Childhood and College
Upon graduation, Stephanie moved to New York City to pursue acting and stand-up comedy full-time. Courtney roomed with Los Angeles Times writer, Megan Daum during her early New York days. Stephanie spent her evenings working as a night secretary for Smith Barney chairman, Robert S. Greenhill. This allowed her to free up her schedule to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse. Stephanie also worked in stand-up comedy, and it eventually brought her to Los Angeles. After making a big move to Los Angeles, she worked a variety of random jobs in between gigs to support her acting career. She roomed with her sister, Jennifer Courtney who is also an actress, and they wrote a sketch show called The Courtney Girls. They were invited to perform the sketch in the Aspen Comedy Festival.
Acting Career and Comedy
After six months of performing in Los Angeles comedy clubs, Stephanie was discovered by her manager. In addition to stand up comedy, Stephanie studied in the Groundlings Improvisation Training Program and eventually was voted in to become a professional member of the main company. Being a part of the main performing group The Groundlings is a rare feat for any actor in Los Angeles to achieve, and it helped get Stephanie to the next level and more auditions. She also met her husband, Scott Kolanach while attending the comedy theater. Scott is the lighting director for The Groundlings Theatre. The couple married in 2008.
Stephanie did roles in both film and television along the way. She was a reporter in the comedy film, Blades of Glory and she played Marge the switchboard operator on the hit AMC series, Mad Men. Commercially, she worked here and there doing spots for companies like Bud Light and Skittles but it was never considered a huge payday in her career, until Progressive came her way. It must have been destiny because all the years of doing odd jobs and playing small parts finally paid off.
In 2008, Stephanie auditioned for a new ad campaign by Progressive Insurance. Progressive Executive, Chris Owen said about the campaign to media outlets, “We wanted to show how easy it was to buy insurance and how Progressive was a great value. We decided to put a fun and energetic face on it, someone who had a great personality and was friendly with customers. Stephanie came to the audition and gave such an amazing performance; everyone looked at each other and said she’s our girl.” Stephanie has since completed dozens of spots for the company and has become a long-term staple and character for the corporation. They even let her do a little of her own improvisation in a lot of the spots they film. Flo is valuable. She has a huge fan base and over 5.4 million likes on Facebook. There are tons of fan sites and pages dedicated to her. She even has her own Halloween costume. A hard working actress is now gainfully employed!
If you passed Stephanie on the street, you would probably not even recognize her as Flo. She is a natural beauty with brown hair and bright blue eyes. In order to create the character Flo, the Progressive creative team truly has to transform her. Flo is a retro looking 60s lady, placed in a futuristic setting. They spend an hour teasing and spraying Stephanie’s hair up in order to create a puffy look, and they add a headband. It takes another hour to do the heavy eyeliner, white powdery skin and red lipstick. Stephanie has mentioned in past interviews, “Flo is me at my silliest. You start off with a script, but in the end, they usually let me put a little zinger in there. … Flo could be one of my improv characters, always on and cracked in a weird way. And the makeup is like painting a portrait on my face. … It totally changes things on my face. It’s like having a mask on.”
Flo’s Mass Appeal
Flo’s character is happy, perky and funny. She makes us think buying insurance is as easy as making a run to Target. The commercials create a spin with insurance being a boxed product you can grab off the shelf. In an increasingly virtual world with little to no guidance and customer service, Flo creates a face attached to a product that is helpful and friendly. She sends the message that shopping with us will save you money and time.
Flo has become a permanent fixture in pop culture. Many people online even say Flo has sex appeal. Stephanie’s thoughts in past interviews on those sex appeal comments, “I do not know what it is. The way I play her, she’s pretty much the most asexual thing on TV right now. I think the Geico lizard puts out more sexual vibes than Flo does!”
Stephanie’s Fame and Fortune
It does not seem that the Flo character is going anywhere anytime soon which is great news for Stephanie. The company keeps shooting new commercials and using the character Flo as the main attraction. As for Stephanie, she is now enjoying motherhood and her blossoming acting career with recent parts in 2 Broke Girls and ongoing roles in the series Fred. She also still stars in The Groundlings. Stephanie’s reported net worth is now over 1 million dollars, and Progressive pays her $500,000 a year just in her initial contract. It is unknown what she makes in residuals between print, billboards, online Web ads and the commercials alone, but we are assuming Progressive is taking very good care of their most valuable commodity. Way to go Stephanie! A victory for hard working actors and actresses everywhere.