Feature

Profile: Bridging the gap at Thinkbox - Tess Alps, Chief executive,Thinkbox

If Tess Alps were under any illusion that running TV trade marketing body Thinkbox would be a cushy number offering a chance to mingle with her TV industry buddies, the sudden resignation of founder member IDS would have made her acutely aware of the viper's nest in which she now operates.

Earlier this month the Flextech TV sales division, one of Thinkbox's founding shareholders, stormed out of the organisation after failing to agree terms on a new voting and funding formula, amid rumours of bullying by some of the bigger members, most notably ITV.

The incident was the latest twist in a series of changes at the organisation, which have included wholesale alterations to its executive management, and inflicted further damage to its already battered credibility.

Alps, 52, is putting on a brave face about IDS' decision. 'Members now have to be collaborators when they have been competitors,' she acknowledges.

She also claims that ITV has been 'pretty restrained', given its status as the biggest contributor to the body and the fact that it has been going through a well-publicised perfect storm of a ratings and ad revenue collapse, which led to the exit of chief executive Charles Allen.

Nonetheless, the clear schism makes Thinkbox's claim that it is the unified 'voice of commercial television' seem debatable and offers evidence that the industry's old habit of in-fighting is proving difficult to shake off.

Alps was a surprise choice as Thinkbox's first full-time chief. Rumours had suggested the job would go to a middle-ranking client advertiser, rather than an expensive media agency heavy-hitter such as Alps, a former PHD chairman.

But reaction to her appointment was generally positive. As well as having an understanding of advertisers' needs from her time at PHD, Alps spent the first half of her career in commercial TV. And as a Royal Television Society and Bafta member, as well as a frequent speaker at industry functions, she is a well-known advocate of the medium.

'TV is in my blood. It matters as a social medium and it will never go away,' she eulogises. She is certainly passionate about the medium, although some have cast doubt on her sincerity, sniping that she is happier dealing with the 'luvvies' of the production world than getting her hands dirty in TV sales.

Prior to taking the Thinkbox role, Alps had moved to working part-time at PHD to spend more time at home. This led critics to claim that her appointment was an act of vanity both on her part and that of Thinkbox's shareholders, positing that, in reality, her contribution would be negligible.

Nonetheless, Alps seems to have bold plans for Thinkbox. She has, she says, managed to double its funding, although she will not reveal the figure. This will be used to create consistent communications with advertisers, as well as initiatives and research into the power of TV, and the hiring of a permanent staff.

Achieving this increase is no mean feat. As well as suffering from a torpid TV ad market, commercial television is renowned for its propensity for internecine battles. It is to Alps' credit, then, that she has achieved something approaching a consensus on her plans from Thinkbox's remaining seven broadcaster members.

Alps describes her role as providing marketing directors with 'ammunition' to show finance directors and chief executives why they should invest in the medium. She adds that the growing number of places where TV can be consumed - such as mobile and IPTV - means it is a growth medium and that Thinkbox research will demonstrate its effectiveness at building brands.

There is no doubting Alps' good intentions, her understanding of the medium and high-level contacts. The problem is that Thinkbox has been saying virtually the same thing since its creation. Its contribution so far has been, at best, extremely limited, and at worst, non-existent. Alps might be full of ideas, but until advertisers see them translated into action, it is difficult not to view Thinkbox as somewhat irrelevant.

CAREER HISTORY
1978-1979: Sales assistant, ATV
1979-1982: Sales executive, Westward TV
1982-1987: Sales manager, TSW
1987-1989: Sales controller, TSW
1989-1993: Sales director, Yorkshire and Tyne-Tees TV
1993-1995: Broadcast director, PHD
1995-1996: Managing director, PHD Bigtime
1996-1999: Executive chairman, Drum PHD
1999-2003: Deputy chairman, PHD Group UK
2003-2006: Chairman, PHD Group UK
2006-present: Chief executive, Thinkbox