With a portfolio that features internationally known lifestyle, retail, beauty, and FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) brands—SM, Branded Lifestye Inc., L’Oreal Paris, Kerastase, L’Oreal Professionnel, NYX Cosmetics, Kiehl’s, Nivea, Levi’s, Guess, Celeteque, Toblerone, Cadbury, Tang, Berocca, and more—it can be a little hard to believe that CASTRO Communications has only been in the public relations industry for seven years.

Yet aside from the impressive professional growth that the communications agency has had in quite a short time, what was once a start-up company also grew to become one of the more gender progressive companies in the PR scene. With its founders and frequent collaborators members of the LGBTQ+ community and advocates for gender equality, CASTRO also intends to become a member of the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce, an industry organization of businesses of, by, and for the LGBTQ+ community.

CASTRO Communications is the brainchild of Martin Castaneda, who is also the agency’s managing director.

Putting their money where their mouth is
“CASTRO has been very open about being gender progressive and supporting the LGBTQ+ advocacy ever since it started,” the company’s PR director Janlee Dungca shares. But given how the fight for gender equality seems to be a dance of two steps forward, one step back, the company feels the current pressing need to align itself even more visibly with its political beliefs. “It’s now high time to be even more vocal about our causes.”

CASTRO’s PR director Janlee Dungca Dungca is also a member of the non-profit organization Love Yourself, which aims to spread awareness on HIV-AIDS prevention, testing, and treatment, especially among the LGBTQ+ community.

This means demonstrating how LGBTQ+ people are not all “parloristas or sex workers” (as Dungca puts it) the way popular media has stereotyped them for decades. Niko Pedro, one of CASTRO’s most valued members who frequently does consultancy work for the company, is a proud gay man who worked on the ground during the last presidential elections in support of then-vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo; he also works full-time for CNN Philippines. CASTRO’s expansion in Singapore, meanwhile, is headed by the married couple Alvin Miranda and Jappy Reyes, both of whom are established marketing professionals.

Aside from employing and collaborating with members of the LGBTQ+ community, CASTRO also conducts SOGIE or Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression Sessions not just within their workplace but with the clients they work with. “It’s part of our efforts to champion gender sensitivity,” Dungca says, as even the most well-intentioned straight cisgender people have a limited understanding of how seemingly harmless and off-hand jokes and comments—on top of outdated gender-specific company policies—can be discriminatory. “Hopefully, we can conduct SOGIE Sessions for bigger audiences in the future, maybe through a project or a campaign in collaboration with our brands.”

CASTRO also participates in the annual Pride March, which happens every June.

CASTRO’s accounts director Lui Castaneda pushes for Pride advocacy in her various interviews and features.

Some bumps on the road
But being vocal about one’s politics, especially in the PR industry, is definitely not a walk in the park. “Unfortunately, we have worked with a few clients who are not very gender progressive,” Dungca admits. “Some have expressed discomfort working with someone who is transgender, for example.” (She and Lui Castaneda are both transgender women.)

CASTRO is hopeful, though, that this difficulty is just part of the growing pains of widespread and lasting social change—one that they’re willing to hurdle through. “As much as it saddens us and as much as we hope that everyone is truly accepting, we also understand that we can’t force people to accept us. People we encounter everyday also transition towards us, and it is our duty to educate them and to open their minds. We deal with this by still relating with them professionally, doing our craft really well, and proving to them that we are worthy of the same trust and respect they give to non-LGBTQ+ people.”

The CASTRO Communications team

With their politics part of their brand DNA, which the company directors treat both as a privilege and a responsibility, CASTRO embraces the role of being frontliners in the effort to raise awareness on gender equality in the workplace, not just locally but also internationally. In fact, managing director Martin Castaneda is now working on expanding the company to the United States and starting an office there.

“We founded CASTRO in the hopes of introducing a new lifeblood to the Philippine PR and branding industry, which I built with transgender women whom I trusted for their talents and work ethics. I did not expect that our personal identities would affect and inspire the LGBTQ+ movement both in and outside the country,” he says. “Now, as CASTRO fully imbibes this spirit in our DNA, I only look forward to how the company can continue to push the Pride agenda through our unique place in the PR industry.”