Commenting on the many roles William “Cas” Castagnoli has played in medical advertising and healthcare communications, David Gideon, executive director of the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame and the former publisher of Medical Marketing & Media (MM&M), observes that, “The remarkable thing about Cas is that his career, for most people, would have been over when he retired from Medicus. Instead, he started on a whole new series of careers.”
Over a span of more than 50 years, Castagnoli has worked in health-related public relations, medical advertising, pharmaceutical journalism, volunteer programs on drug abuse, as consultant to agencies and professional groups, and as organizer and director of the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame and the Association of Medical Media (formerly AMP) the Doctors’ Choice Awards.
Castagnoli started as a beginner in public relations with the Queensboro and New York Tuberculosis Associations in 1954 after serving in the army during the Korean War, and then moved on in 1958 to the PR unit of the L.W. Frohlich advertising agency. A year later he began his advertising career when he moved to the ad agency’s traffic department. After 13 years, when the agency closed due to Frohlich’s untimely death in 1971, he had risen to become one of 3 vice presidents, group supervisors.
In the fragmentation of the agency that followed, Castagnoli, together with Ed Dent and Larry Lesser, took 16 fellow Frohlich employees with them in 1972 to partner with the consumer agency Benton & Bowles to form a new medical agency. Larry Lesser, a co-founder of the agency recalls, “When we started, the three of us assumed very different roles. One of the key things was what we were going to call ourselves. And that assignment went to Bill, who was particularly good as a historian and a writer to [create] what we should be called. And he did…Medicus Communications was his child.”
Medicus began with 3 sizable accounts—Merrell Dow, Schering-Plough, and Procter & Gamble. Over the next 20 years, Castagnoli helped build Medicus into one of the leading healthcare ad agencies in the world. In 1992, he retired from the agency as president (USA/Canada) and vice-chairman.
After his retirement from the agency world, based on his interest in writing, he entered a new field when he accepted an offer from Gideon to become a contributing editor for Medical Marketing & Media. From 1992 to 2003, his feature articles on pharmaceutical advertising/marketing appeared regularly in MM&M, covering such topics as the Washington Legal Foundation’s challenge to FDA regulations, the emergence of dietary supplements as alternatives to Rx products, reviews of advertising award shows and new campaigns, and roundtable discussions in which he served as moderator.
On Castagnoli’s contribution to MM&M, Gideon says, “I looked at him within our editorial team as sort of [our] Woodward/Bernstein. He identified topics…things that were important and not necessarily always marketing oriented, things that the industry should address.”
Castagnoli also authored a series using a fictional agency copy chief named Brad Banner. Gideon describes the dialogue pieces: “Brad Banner was a sage, wise, senior agency exec who worked both the creative and management sides, as Cas did. Younger people would come into Brad’s office and ask advice [on medical advertising]. Brad would dispense advice that always turned out to be right on the mark. So he, to me, was relaying his experience, wisdom, and advice to younger people—but not doing it by preaching to them as Bill Castagnoli, but as this whimsical, humorous, fictional character.”
In 1996 when David Gideon and Ron Pantello, then the chief officer of Lally McFarland & Pantello, conceived of the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame, they turned to Castagnoli, with his knowledge and access to the leadership of medical advertising agencies, to organize the group’s original executive committee.
Pantello sums up Castagnoli’s 10 years with the MAHF: “Cas came on board as executive director, and it was a good decision. He ran the meetings, the agenda…was responsible for the [early] videos…pulled off the events…worked with the vendors…and saw that all the voting was proper and fair. [Also] I think Cas’ great contribution was his oversight and development of Medicine Ave, the only book ever written about medical advertising. I think Cas shares a unique quality that everyone I’ve dealt with on the executive committee shares…that is to give something back to the industry that’s been good to them, and that they care about what has happened in the past…but also how we can make the future better. All Cas did throughout his career, we were able to capitalize on and used to make the MAHF what it is today.”
It was through the MAHF that Castagnoli took on the Doctors’ Choice Awards.
Alan Imhoff, president of the International Medical News Group, describes a meeting in 2004 with Pantello, which he had initiated because of the MAHF’s success, to ask advice on an advertising award program sponsored by the AMP: “We figured he could give us some pointers on how it might go. And at the meeting with Ron and Bill, Ron was very helpful and said, ‘Bill, what do you think?’ Cas just about jumped on the table and said, ‘I definitely want to do this. This is unique. It doesn’t exist anywhere in the world.’ It just knocked us back. He was so enthusiastic.”
It was an enormous amount of work. We started in January [to] put on the event in the fall. So it was a ridiculous time frame, but we pulled it off. I remember walking into the event…and here were 400 people in black tie. It was just amazing that Cas, in effect, had willed this thing to happen in 9 months.”
Reviewing Castagnoli’s career, Bill Mulligan, now with Chameleon Communications, who worked with him at Medicus says, “Think about [his] decades in the industry, on the probably hundreds or thousands of people he had a positive impact on. He would help on the creative side…on the account side. He was always there for you. I think, he was a remarkable man and made an impact on a lot of lives.”
Castagnoli still continues to do some work for the industry. He and his wife Carole and a Maltese terrier named Cannoli live in NYC and in Dutchess County, New York.