ADVERTISING TELEVISION: Has This Advertising Guru Taken on an Impossible Mission? ; the Outspoken Tess Alps Has Quit Her Media Agency to Save Television Advertising. It Feels like a Moral Mission, She Tells Raymond Snoddy but She Needs More Than Faith to Make It Work

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Tess Alps, the woman faced with the task of bringing advertising back to the medium of television, is the first to admit that she has a healthy appetite.

And it is food analogies she chooses to explain the unhealthily thin appearance of British advertising. "There's actually too much spice and not enough meat, not enough nourishment."

Awards are won in the advertising industry, Alps believes, by wacky campaigns designed to run on the sides of biscuit packets or on the backs of toilet doors. It is a culture that neglects the more substantial and sustaining alternative of advertising on TV.

"I have bought [advertising on] many toilet doors myself, but I would call it the spice in the schedule," says Alps, who, as the former chairman of the independent media agency PHD, knows a thing or two about buying advertising. She starts work next month as the founding chief executive of Think box, the marketing body formed to reverse the crisis in television advertising. "Most of what I am going to be able to say is actually showing advertisers about the value of their investment in TV and how it will come back to them through better online media and better direct mail response rates," she says.

As she begins her new job, the advertising climate could hardly be more difficult. Advertisers have stayed away in droves from the World Cup and IT V's income from that source could be down as much as 13 per cent next month year-on-year. Television advertising as a whole in the UK could decline by as much as 5 per cent this year on last.

For the past couple of months, the most frequently asked question Alps has faced is: why would she give up the chairmanship of PHD to take on what could be an impossible task? "They probably think it's a demotion - 'she's being eased out.' But I just don't care what people think," Alps responds. "What turns me on is the intellectual stimulation of the task - and this is a major one."

The body was launched in February 2005 after a series of top- secret meetings between rivals such as ITV, Channel 4, Five, Sky and Turner. Alps praises her new bosses for having the courage to go ahead. "The truth is that ITV is still very, very powerful and it would have been very easy for them to say: Why would I want to fund this thing?'"

For the first year, Think box was a virtual organisation without physical headquarters or formal staff, even though as many as six people were working on the concept full-time. Now, with television advertising under threat from everything from low consumer confidence and fragmenting audiences to online search engines and fast-forwarding personal video recorders, Think box is getting serious by hiring Alps. …