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Donna Castle – PR graduate behind major health campaigns

Image of Donna Castle

Since graduating from BU, Donna Castle has worked on some of the UK’s best-known public health campaigns and lobbied to deliver significant changes in government policy.

Today Donna is Senior Director of Public Affairs and Communications at PAGB, the trade association for manufacturers of branded over-the-counter medicines, self-care medical devices and food supplements. Despite the pace at which communications have changed over the past two decades, Donna still draws on the skills and knowledge gained from her degree in public relations. She said: “I can say without a doubt that my degree prepared me well for my career. A few years ago I was studying to achieve chartered practitioner status and ended up digging out my old university notes on PR theory and practice. It’s amazing how relevant they still were. While communications channels have changed over the years, the principles have remained the same and my degree gave me a real breadth of knowledge and understanding.”

Despite originally setting out on a career in media relations, Donna quickly realised the job satisfaction to be gained from public affairs. As the British Lung Foundation’s first Parliamentary Officer, she worked alongside charities including Cancer Research UK and ASH to secure a smoking ban in public places and workplaces. In doing so, she also helped to increase awareness of the effects of smoking on lung diseases. Next, as Campaigns Manager at Diabetes UK, Donna and her team organised a lobby of Parliament involving more than 220 children with diabetes and their parents.

Donna said: “We discovered that children were being asked to stay off school because there was no-one available to oversee their insulin injections and in some cases, they were being asked to do their injections in the school toilets, out of sight of other children. Our campaign to bring those affected to Westminster was shortlisted for an award and eventually led to the introduction of a Private Members’ Bill on the issue.

“By getting involved in these sorts of campaigns I realised that my work could, in some small way, make a positive impact on improving lives. Public affairs is a long-term game. You don’t get the same immediate job satisfaction as you would from generating news coverage which hits the front pages the next day, but the rewards are potentially much greater.”

While PAGBis a less well-known name than some of her previous employers, Donna has recently helped the organisation to celebrate its centenary year. She said: “PAGB was set up after the First World War by manufacturers of medicines who wanted to guard against those making false claims about so-called miracle products. In1936 it launched the world’s first self-regulatory advertising code, which went on to become the basis of the first Advertising Standards Authority code. When we delved into the archives we also discovered that PAGB was put in charge of alcohol rationing during the Second World War. That is some indication of how well respected the organisation has been over the years.”

Donna’s advice to other graduates entering the public relations industry is to keep learning to stay on top of emerging trends. She said: “I became a student member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations while at university and it has been central to my professional development since then. When it comes to your career and your professional development, you definitely get out what you put in.”