C Talent’s Keely Cat-Wells on the importance of disability-led management

We sit down with business leaders from the creator economy to get their best advice for creators looking to start and grow their careers. This week we spoke to Keely Cat-Wells, the Founder and President of C Talent.

C Talent is a disability-owned talent management and consulting firm representing deaf and disabled creators, actors, directors and writers. C Talent helps developers close brand deals, negotiate fair contracts, scale their business and more. It also provides disability and accessibility advice to high-profile brands. Recently, C Talent was acquired by Whalar, a well-known creator commerce and talent management company.

Cat Wells tells passion fruit about her career and the inspiration for C Talent; accessibility in the creative business and entertainment industries; her best advice for creators and what Whalar’s acquisition of C Talent means for the brand.

Keely Cat-Wells has received an impressive number of awards for her entrepreneurship in the world of talent management. She has been recognized as a Forbes 30 Under 30 Honoree, One Young World Entrepreneur of the Year, Diana Award Winner, and AdWeek Young Influential. She has received a lot of attention for her work for people with disabilities and has even served as an advisory board member for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. She has trained major brands on accessibility and representation, working as a consultant for LEGO, the United Nations, Google and the Cannes Film Festival, among others.

Cat-Wells told Passionfruit that she got into talent management in her early 20s while being treated in hospital for a disability and helping college friends land creative gigs. She shared that being undiagnosed and misdiagnosed in a broken medical system influenced her later decisions as an entrepreneur to prioritize accessibility for her clients.

“Basically, I came out of the other end of the hospital in a new body and realized that the world was no longer built the way I imagined it. It was a very big wake-up call,” said Cat-Wells.

After leaving the hospital, Cat-Wells attempted a talent management internship, but unfortunately had to quit as the company didn’t offer remote work. After leaving the company, she decided to branch out and work at her own company, C Talent, to create a more flexible work environment and to combat ableism.

“Ableism is discrimination against disabled people. That was really the impetus for C Talent because I realized that people with disabilities don’t typically have access to Option A or Option B. So we have to create our own Option C, and for me, Option CC was talent,” Cat- Wells said.

Since its inception, C Talent has grown into a well-known disability-owned talent management firm, representing 85 high-calibre deaf and disabled talent – ​​including content creators, actors, directors and writers. C Talent has successfully negotiated contracts and closed talent brand deals with mainstream business giants such as Savage X Fenty, Hulu, About-Face, Disney, Google, Subaru, Nike and others.

In addition to talent management, C Talent also advises brands on physical, sensory, communicative and cognitive accessibility. Cat-Wells spoke at length about the entertainment industry’s capable physical infrastructure that prevents creators from sharing their talents. She also spoke about other challenges developers face in the entertainment industry, including negative stereotypes and a “disability is charity” mindset that implies that people with disabilities cannot or should not make money.

“I would often walk into rooms with investors or potential stakeholders and they would say, ‘You know what, I have a great idea, you should be a charity.’ I would hear that so many times,” described Cat-Wells.

Cat-Wells said she thinks a lot of disabled talent longs for managers who are themselves disabled, who can better understand their physical and emotional needs, because talent managers who represent disabled clients but don’t specialize in disability and access, often to be wrong.

“You don’t quite get the lived experience. You will sometimes see that they only use talent in disability-specific roles or disability-specific projects, but for us our focus is on breaking the stereotypes,” said Cat-Wells.

Two influencers represented by C Talent, the couple and vlogging duo Cole and Charisma, told Passionfruit about their struggles with “bad” managers who ripped them off or didn’t understand their accessibility needs.

“When we had management that wasn’t really fighting for us, like C Talent does, it was very difficult for us to demand adjustments when a brand came to us with specific content ideas,” Kohl described.

“Cole and I have been through a lot with management,” Charisma said. “My biggest advice is don’t settle down. Go with your intuition. If you don’t get good vibes from them, act on it…keep looking.

“I would add, don’t let anyone pressure you. That’s what happened on our first bad management deal,” said Cole. “Make sure your attorney works with you to look at these contracts to make sure they’re not screwing you — because they will.”

Cat-Wells says incorporating specific accessibility requirements into contracts is a big part of what C Talent does for clients. She says the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Equality Act, which prohibit discrimination based on disability, only cover the bare minimum of accessibility — and many businesses don’t comply anyway. Cat-Wells strongly encourages all creators to seek assistance in reviewing contracts before signing, either from a manager or even just in a group chat with other creators.

Cat-Wells also said that because of her experiences with ableism, disabled talent sometimes comes to her with a limited idea of ​​what they can achieve. She said she always encourages people to think bigger about how to scale their businesses.

“Create a 5-year plan. Make a big plan. Remind them and recognize with them that every job they do, every deal they make, will affect the next one,” said Cat-Wells.

Creator Paula Carozzo, a disability activist and influencer represented by C Talent, told Passionfruit how C Talent has helped her grow her business. Carozzo said if a creator is lucky, a few brand deals a month can make a decent living. But brand deals come and go, and for something to be truly sustainable, it’s important to expand into multiple revenue streams — for her, writing and speaking in public is all.

“For me, it was like leverage — that step in credibility, that step in diversifying my career, diversifying my portfolio, diversifying my income streams,” Carozzo said.

Recently, C Talent was acquired by Whalar, a large creator trading and talent management company well-known among keen observers of the creator economy. Cat-Wells said Whalar worked with C Talent on a variety of projects for a while and decided to accept their bid because of their commitment to accessibility and disability advocacy.

“We want disability advocacy to be integrated into all agencies, all management companies, all businesses,” said Cat-Wells. “To take disability into the mainstream in this way with Whalar I think is a big moment… Our goal is to change the way the world defines disability and people with disabilities as experts on issues to normalize beyond disabilities. And I think working together with Whalar brings us so much closer to those goals than we would on our own.”

Creators on the C-Talent list are also optimistic about the acquisition, saying it will give them access to more resources to further advance representation and opportunities for disabled creators.

“I think this Whalar acquisition of C Talent is a step up. Not just for C Talent, but it shows the industry how important it is to have disabled leaders, disabled creators, on the front lines of these decisions,” creator Carozzo said of the acquisition.

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Jaclyn Diaz

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