João Duarte | Innovator 25 EMEA 2021

João Duarte

Head of Communications, Global Infrastructure & Networks

Enel Group


Innovation requires curiosity, empathy, creativity as much as knowledge, research, and methodological mindset."

Passionate, thoughtful and extremely knowledgeable about innovation in the energy industry, the role it has to play in tackling climate change, and the power of communications in making the world a better place, João Duarte brings 20 years of public and private sector experience across the finance, retail, education and energy sectors to his current role as head of communications for the global infrastructure and networks division of Enel Group, the largest privately-owned operator of electricity distribution grids with operations in eight countries and serving 74 million customers. Named as one of the 20 Rising Stars for 2020 in PRovoke Media’s Influence 100 listing of the world’s most powerful CMOs and CCOs, Duarte has worked for the energy firm for 13 years in various capacities around the world, leading internal and external communications and campaigns that helped to shift perceptions of the firm and the industry. A long-time lecturer in PR and Communications, he also helped to launch the masters degree in Strategic Public Relations Management at the Lisbon Superior School of Mass Communication and Media Arts – the first programme of its kind in a Portuguese-speaking country.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
About the same.

Do you think the global pandemic has made the industry more innovative?

Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
Data, analytics & measurement.

Who most influences how innovative a brand's engagement is?

How do you define innovation?
It is something in-between an art and a science. It’s about hard work and the use of codified tools to map the needs, identifying and prioritizing business issues that can create value. It is about gathering information on how any others are dealing with similar needs, engage the wider community of innovators to find or create the best solutions. It is often seen as mostly a creative process of a few, but that’s missing the point that innovation happens when you succeed in unleashing the wisdom of the crowd, but it starts with listening carefully to those that face the problems or opportunities that need to be addressed. It requires as much curiosity, empathy, creativity as well as knowledge, research, and methodological mindset.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
The world has just been through one of the most intense global co-creative and innovative efforts ever as we joined forces and talent to create the vaccines that allowed us to start emerging from the pandemic. A lot of innovative initiatives in comms/ marketing came from this usually forgotten space of health communication as vaccination campaigns unfolded and public health compliant behaviours had to be understood and practiced by everyone. I’d also mention the internal comms folks that have kept morale high in our organizations, invented new ways to engage distant workforces and that are now gradually communicating our way towards existing or new workplace realities.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
I enjoy the broad perspective that those companies offering strategic advice bring to the table. Either a branding agency, a media planning company, an integrated comms agency or even a reputation consultancy. They help set the focus first on strategy and objectives, and only then on execution. In today’s world, there is a hype around those ideas or projects that are highly creative and can hit short term reactions as opposed to real transformational ideas or projects that impact on long-term relationships. Only by mixing these two elements can we avoid that creativity becomes a commodity.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
A few years ago, we sat down with a top tier branding agency to think deeply about the evolution that the power sector was undergoing and to explore what it meant for a global brand such as Enel Group. Through a deeply collective and innovative exercise involving external stakeholders and engaging the senior leadership of the company, we defined the Open Power brand purpose and launched it before revealing, a few weeks later, our new brand identity for a different communication scenario. Having released the strategic content ahead of the visual expression of the rebranding allowed us to give time for people to understand what it meant and to ensure adequate comprehension of the design and brand identity.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
Maria de Montessori. The famous Italian physician and educator who developed a totally revolutionary educational method focusing on the full sensorial engagement of children in the learning process. At the beginning of the 1900’s she developed this method by researching extensively on how children learn and especially children with disabilities. Today this method is used all over the world to foster respect, autonomy, self-confidence because children absorb knowledge from the environment (casa dei bambini) and teach themselves.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
A few years ago I’d say researching and getting more different perspectives over the subject at stake. Usually that is a blocker of creativity as you lack the capability to see the complexity of the phenomena. Today I think it’s also very much about emotions and how you can put your emotional intelligence to work to unleash new, bold and effective ideas working with others.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Focus a lot on how to stand out from disinformation, how to create a more healthy communication environment and on how to develop a new and much needed media literacy.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
I’d be focusing all my energy in unleashing the power of communication for change in the decisive decade we have ahead of us to contain global warming and climate change effects that risk to make large parts of the world uninhabitable by 2030.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures by Antonio Damasio.

What's your favourite time of day and why?
Whenever I have the chance to do something unexpected. Surprise a friend, pick up my kids at school, have lunch with my wife.