Alvaro Melendez | The Innovator 25 North America 2022

Alvaro Melendez

Co-Founder & CEO 


“Innovation is the class of ideas that become something new and generate a leap forward in how we go about solving a problem.”

A year after launching his “creative machine learning company,” Crant, Alvaro Melendez saw in the latter half of 2020 brands having to navigate a very different playing field that grew out of the Black Lives Matter movement. Companies moved swiftly after George Floyd’s murder to bolster their DEI communications with an eye on reaching the full range of stakeholders, including consumers. Whether those initiatives were having impact, however, was another question. 

Which is where Melendez stepped in, creating the DEI Barometer for partner agency, The Sway Effect, an innovative, AI-backed platform born of AI and innovation that enables brands to measure whether their diversity and inclusion initiatives are resonating with audiences — and change them in real-time if need be. Going even further, the insights factor in sexual identity, race and ethnicity, gender, age, class and disability. The barometer encapsulates the innovation and analytics Melendez has leveraged throughout his career to solve companies’ problems — but also to propel them into being digital powerhouses in their own rights. Before starting his own shop, Melendez spent nine years at Ogilvy in Latin America, including a year leading a special task force responsible for the data-driven digital transformation of Ogilvy and its major clients.

How do you define innovation?
Innovation is the clash of ideas that become something new and generate a leap forward in how we go about solving a problem.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
The Barbie Movie campaign.

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
Liquid Death and Oatly are two brands that have been innovative in brand building. Both have taken a drastically different approach to a well-established category like water and milk. They have found a new way of storytelling that perfectly combines purpose with humor and entertainment.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
The moment I realized AI was going to redefine how we go about strategy and understood that I had to start a new company to develop this capability, because large corporate networks were not moving quickly enough.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
Jennifer Risi.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
I run or read about something completely unrelated.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
My best advice is to think about the industry with fresh eyes and forget everything that has worked or not in the past. Right now there is someone out there building a new PR practice fully based on AI and their company will bring a new disruptive innovation, leaving risk-averse companies out of business.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
I would be studying computer science.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
Dr. Michael Gervais' podcast "Finding Mastery" is a great source of inspiration. I constantly read comic books for lateral thinking.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
The most important aspect of DEI is that it needs to be understood as a core element of the brand and not a stand-alone program. Too often DEI is limited to HR and training, but brands have large audiences that they impact every day. They create "worlds" for people, and these have immense transformational power. If brands embrace DEI thinking in everything they do, the impact will be exponential.

Also, DEI can be treated with transparency and humor like The Barbie movie did. DEI comms don't need to be sad and boring.