The unsung heroes behind the McCain ad

Posted: 1.03.2018

As a parent of a disabled child, searching for progress when it comes to diversity and inclusivity, the McCain “We are family” campaign resonates with me.

A thoughtful piece based on insight, McCain joins a short list of brands that are putting their money where their mouth is in doing something positively representative.

However, instead of talking about the ad today, I want to talk about the unsung heroes: the two women that helped cast the Down Syndrome (real life) couple Andrew and Eleanor in the ad, that are doing brilliant work in driving real change behind the scenes.

Step forward Zoe Proctor and Laura Johnson, founders of Zebedee Management, a specialist model and talent agency working with (and for) people with disabilities and difficulties in this brutal industry. With a unique and incredibly important USP, their clear company ethos is both impressive and humbling:

“Our hope is that our models have a fair shot of getting work alongside other ‘mainstream’ models so we see a balanced cross-section of society, and not a one off act of tokenism.”

When I came across Zebedee last November, I was so bowled over by their socially driven purpose I immediately began showcasing their work and the work of people like them within ELVIS.

Only set up around 6 months ago, the company is still in it’s infancy but judging by their glorious Instagram feed, momentum is truly gathering for these two admirable woman. Zoe tells me that “Big brands are starting to hear us and now know we exist, and maybe have started to realise disability isn’t so scary and something to be feared but should be embraced and represented in advertising a positive, inclusive way.” They certainly seem to be on track as they continue to cast their talent in campaigns for the likes of Matalan, CBeebies, Hunger Magazine, London Fashion Week and River Island (to name but a few!).

When I reached out to Zoe wanting to know more, it became clear that she and Laura put in a huge amount of time and energy into ensuring their talent is supported and protected throughout the casting and creative process. They attend shoots to alleviate anxiety, hold workshops to better understand vulnerabilities and strengths, build confidence and support the families with community WhatsApp groups and advice on working disability and benefits.

“Working with those who have disabilities means we have a responsibility to them beyond their bookings. We take extra time to work closely with clients, artists, parents, carers and service providers to build a transparent, trusting relationship and to manage the expectations of everyone involved.”

Agreeing that Zebedee and ELVIS should collaborate, we’ve set a date for them to come into the agency and educate us on how we go about successfully casting and representing people with complex needs in all our work, immediately, with no excuses.

On both a personal and professional level, connecting with Zoe, Laura and other likeminded individuals, brands and businesses to drive change and acceptance is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

And it’s time they got the recognition they deserve.


- Emma Gardner, Managing Partner, ELVIS