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What I’ve Learnt: Judith Donovan CBE, Chair, Strategic Mailing Partnership


Judith is Chair of the Strategic Mailing Partnership, the industry body that represents mailing houses across the UK, having founded one of the UK’s earliest direct marketing agencies in 1982, becoming one of Yorkshire’s first female entrepreneurs in the process.

She grew Judith Donovan Associates (JDA) to become the second-largest independent direct marketing agency in the UK, achieving a £12.5m turnover and reaching 50 staff by the time it was sold in 2000.

As well as her role in the Strategic Mailing Partnership, she chairs the advisory board at the National Science and Media Museum, holds the same role for the Keep Me Posted Campaign, and was DMA Chair for two years. She’s won a number of awards including Yorkshire Businesswoman of the Year and Yorkshire Woman of the Year, and has even appeared twice on BBC Question Time.

Here are the lessons Judith, one of the region’s most experienced marketers, has learnt.


Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

A drink and a smoke!

What’s been your luckiest break?

Being in the office late one Christmas Eve, which meant I was able to accept a government invitation to become a Millennium Commissioner.

The Commission needed an urgent replacement for someone who had been taken ill, and by late afternoon, most people had gone home. I was still at my desk so I was in a position to step in.

What’s your best failure?

Losing half my board due to them setting up in competition… then finding that the clients weren’t bothered. The middle managers decided to stay as their route to the top was no longer blocked!

What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?

Buying an old farmhouse near Ripon before the A1 upgrade was completed.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ – uplifting in any circumstances.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Believe in yourself more.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

Bradford Junior Chamber. It was there, early in my career, that I learned the art of public speaking, debating and presentation skills. Given that I went on to run my own agency, it was vital that I could pitch and speak confidently at conferences and other events. 

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I study the First World War, in particular the Western Front and the life of the ordinary soldier serving in the trenches. I have visited battlefield sites many times and they never cease to amaze me.

How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?

Direct mail will have a resurgence as it is trusted and people are at home more to receive it.

What does success look like to you?

It’s always a journey, not a destination.

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