Gonçalo Castel‑Branco “I have always enjoyed going beyond my comfort zone”

An hour and a half long conversation, that could easily have lasted a whole afternoon. Gonçalo Castel‑Branco is a creative man, not only in events, and a born talker. Not afraid to take risks, to get things done, he is the mentor of The Presidential Train project, an original idea by his eldest daughter, that won him the award for Best Public Event at Bea World 2017. His career path is full of remarkable events.

From a mediocre student to an excellent professional. It was his mother, a well‑known Portuguese communicator, Luísa  Castel‑Branco, who always recognised Gonçalo's potential, despite his poor performance at school. "She was always the only one who had a sense of what I could be. I was truly a difficult kid, a difficult student. She eventually believed me, at times when no one else did. If I had a mother with less vision, I would probably have gone in different directions." But her influence did not stop there. Gonçalo ended up professionally following in the footsteps of his mother: communication and politics. In communication, it all began with an internship in a sports marketing company. "I was hired right after my first interview and I went from intern to department manager in six months." Then, an invitation followed to be the creative director of a small agency, led by Eduardo Guerra. "On my first day he told me that the following day we had a meeting with a new brand that was going to be launched, which was Yorn (Telecommunications brand), and that he needed an idea. In my career I have always enjoyed going beyond my comfort zone. When I accepted this job as a creative director, I had never in my life had to look at a blank piece of paper looking for an idea. I remember feeling terrified. At the time I created something that was the Yorn School Experience, which was the perfect day at school. It was a school roadshow, where kids, instead of Maths or Portuguese, had graffiti and DJ classes. So, the next day we got there, and he sat me in front of Tiago Canas Mendes, one of the people responsible for this new brand." Tiago would be another important person in Gonçalo's career. Together they did "phenomenal things at Yorn."

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When Gonçalo Castel‑Branco found out that he was going to be a dad, he decided to reduce his work pace, hectic at the time, and together with Tiago Canas Mendes, he opened Action 4, another company awarded in the Best Event Awards. Along the way, he decides to go to the United States to work for Obama's campaign.

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Yes, he can
During President Obama's second campaign, Gonçalo Castel‑Branco decides to combine his holidays and leaves to the United States. At the time, he was also responsible for the Portuguese government's digital communication. "I've always been passionate about American politics and had a romantic perspective about it. What we do is often divided into small plots: communication, marketing, advertising, strategy, events, and this is an absolutely false division. What we do is only one thing: we are storytellers, a narrative is the only instrument to pass on feelings to each other. How we tell it, or the scale with which we tell it, are all things easier to box. But at the end of the day, the rules are absolutely the same." Politics can be one of the "noblest arts of storytelling there is," believes Castel‑Branco. At the time he was convinced that he was going to serve coffees, but in the good American way everything changed in a few hours. "I went to North Carolina, to the Convention, and my idea was to go next to Chicago, to the campaign headquarters. But I ended up being diverted to Washington and working in Virginia. I met someone and suddenly in 48 hours, I had a job on the campaign, had a place to live on the White House street, and was having dinner with the Washington Mayor the next day. A series of things that are only possible in the United States began to happen. I gathered a network of contacts that I still keep. And in the meantime I have worked in the United States for two more campaigns. In total I worked in almost 15 campaigns, in the USA, Brazil and Portugal." In 2016, he also worked on Hillary Clinton's campaign managing and training volunteers. His candidate's defeat was a huge disappointment. "For once, it was the only election I lost, I did not have much experience in losing. A campaign has something very wicked, and at the same time very natural about it, that is the only communication and marketing exercise in which 50% of the people who are working will be deeply disappointed at the end of the day. On the other hand, it was one of the most important campaigns in which I worked, in the sense that in all of us there was a notion that we were saving the world. It was a huge sadness," he confesses. But also a moment of great "pride" because "I was on the right side of history and I was trying to make a better world for my daughters." Is Portugal too small for people like Gonçalo Castel‑Branco? "I feel like it's the right size. My American friends who follow my career think I'm crazy or lying. I was in Washington, in the Obama campaign, I was responsible for the government's digital communication in Portugal, spoke to the Prime Minister directly and regularly, two months later when they checked my Facebook profile I had invented a luxury train, which meanwhile won the world's Best Public Event award; three months later I was adapting Avenue Q (the musical) to Portugal. I often say that Portugal is a small lake, but it has the advantage of being easier to become a big fish. In the United States, I'm a little fish. In Portugal a person who is serious, has talent and treats others well, has everything to reach the highest level of his market, relatively fast. He will probably manage to have a comfortable life, to do good things. I do not know of any other country where I could come up with a train, without having ever made one, and six months later having it operating on its rails.

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Cláudia Coutinho de Sousa
Fotos: António Camilo

Tags: Gonçalo Castel-Branco, The Presidential