Opinion: Perspective - Thinkbox makes a smart move in appointing Alps

By Francesca Newland, francesca.newland@haynet.com, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 07 April 2006 12:00AM

There must have been some smug smiles among the board members of Thinkbox last Thursday morning. Not only was its announcement that Tess Alps would become its first chief executive unexpected, but the news was also met with widespread acclaim.

Thinkbox's performance to date has seemed, well, a little half-hearted.

It has used Ingram as a virtual administration, instead of appointing its own. In addition, it has been hit by the departure of three of its board members. However, the appointment of a full-time chief executive - and her brief to appoint a full-time staff - demonstrates that Thinkbox's board is serious about achieving its goals.

Not only that, but the choice of Alps as chief executive means Thinkbox has a fighting chance of achieving those goals. Perhaps the biggest job she'll face is keeping the Thinkbox members on side, preventing dissent as their varying agendas call for different strategic aims.

There will be a honeymoon period where everyone will be throwing their energy into working together, but this is unlikely to last. Finding a candidate with the skill to keep members singing from the same song-sheet will have been high on Thinkbox's agenda, and in Alps it has found a listener, well versed in diplomacy.

It's not as if she doesn't know all the principal characters in TV anyway - she's been in the business for years (13 of them at PHD). She's not going to have to waste her first year in the job getting to know everybody's agenda, she already knows them. Liked and respected in equal measure by agencies, client companies and media owners, Alps will be able to get straight down to business.

Her decision to leave PHD was unexpected. She has been there a long time but it seems that she reached the point where she felt she had to decide between staying until retirement, or following a new career path. She's chosen the latter, and it's one with quite obvious appeal.

To date, TV's naysayers have had the loudest voice, but there's a brilliant TV story just waiting to be told. When the Advertising Association revealed its share of spend figures last month, few commented on the fact that TV's share had risen by 3.6 per cent.

Likewise, the IPA's Touchpoints survey made the internet look wimpy in consumption terms when put up against the might of television. With Alps at the helm of Thinkbox, such data will be put to good use.

However, the most effective work will be proactive, not reactive. Emerging technology must not be treated as a threat, but presented as the opportunity that it is. People are still going to watch the content that TV channels transmit, both its programming and its advertising, they're just going to employ different ways of getting at it.

One powerful case study for successful TV advertising is Sainsbury's, which this week boasted a 5.2 per cent sales increase for the 12 weeks running up to Christmas. It was gratifying to see Sainsbury's attribute the turnaround in fortune to its advertising campaign by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. Still, it would have been hypocritical not to. After all, the retailer lost no time before blaming its 1998 plunge in profits to AMV's "value to shout about" campaign.

It's tempting to think AMV and Sainsbury's were simply lucky that the star of the advertising, Jamie Oliver, shot to superstar status last summer on the back of his Channel 4 documentary on healthy eating. After all, until the series ran, the plan had been to ditch Oliver from the campaign.

However, the "try something new today" strategy should not be overlooked.

Getting one more item into each shopper's basket is an achievable goal.

It's a piece of thinking that has delivered results for Sainsbury's and, in doing so, demonstrated the power of television advertising.

- Claire Beale is on maternity leave.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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