My Life In Media: Tess Alps

I'm able to say: 'I have to go home now to do some work' and then spend the evening watching telly while feeling virtuous
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The Independent Online

Tess Alps is the chief executive of Thinkbox, the UK's marketing body for commercial broadcasters. She dabbled in theatre before pursuing a career in TV sales, and her broadcast career has now spanned almost three decades. Last year, she left media agency PHD to head up Thinkbox, where she is now gearing up for this month's Experience 2007 event at London's Roundhouse.

What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

Inspiration only came into it after about five years; I fell into media by mistake, but eventually found it was great fun and I was OK at it.

When you were 15, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

The Retford Times was the most important newspaper in the house. Of course, I read it. How else would I have known what was showing at the Majestic or which of the naughty girls at school had given birth to their illegally conceived babies?

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

Back then I loved things like The Avengers and The Prisoner, as well as slightly girlier things like The Monkees. I had a crush on Peter Tork. I loved BBC radio comedies like The Navy Lark and Round The Horne.

Describe your job

I have the best job in the world, helping customers of commercial TV to get more out of it. So my job is best described as promoting TV, in all its forms, but from a completely impartial and, hopefully, well-informed position.

What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?

Not TV strangely, though everyone else in the house is watching either Everybody Loves Raymond, Dexter's Laboratory on Cartoon Network or MythBusters on Discovery. I hate mornings so I need total silence. I do glance at my BlackBerry, and in the car I sometimes listen to Radio 4 or 3 or maybe Classic FM.

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

Constantly. Information, research and insight are the tools of my trade and I couldn't operate without a whole slew of broadcast TV channels, media websites and e-mail alerts.

What is the best thing about your job?

Being able to say: "I have to go home now to do some work" and then spend the evening watching telly while feeling virtuous.

And the worst?

I spend a lot of time saying similar things to a lot of different people so I worry that I might repeat myself occasionally. The shame! And I get anxious that I might be repetitive.

How do you feel you influence the media?

Hardly at all. But I have always tried to get TV producers and broadcasters and advertisers to understand each other better and to realise that they share many of the same ambitions. Advertisers don't just want numbers, they also want passionate engagement and involvement from viewers. And producers also like their work being seen by as many people as possible.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

Cringe time! Well, in my last job, at PHD, I hope I helped the agency stay true to itself and its founding principles while achieving success. But in about a month I hope I'll be saying that the Thinkbox Experience [on 27 February] was the best advertising industry event that anyone has ever staged. Hubris, of course.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

How long have you got? I once went up to a bloke at a party and asked him, "Why do people call (name of wife) the Whore of Babylon?" I am sometimes very naïve and always accident-prone.

At home, what do you tune in to?

I watch lots of TV of all sorts professionally. But for personal pleasure I choose impeccable British drama like Prime Suspect, Shameless or Longford, quirky British comedy like Green Wing, The Mighty Boosh or Peep Show, classy imports like Curb Your Enthusiasm, 24 or House, and family fun like The Simpsons, Brainiac, Dancing on Ice and anything with Ant and Dec who are utter geniuses. Plus operas and gardening. I never sleep.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

We always buy The Observer and I like its monthly food magazine very much. I don't read many mags but love the few I do, such as Private Eye, Gardens Illustrated and Country Life. I actually read those articles about making church bell ropes and the like.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire

To end the destructive and utterly false TV-versus-internet paradigm that seems to have taken root in some journalists' brains.

If you didn't work in the media what would you do?

Ballet dancing.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

I don't approve of adulation, but I have genuine admiration for Michael Grade's passion for creativity, his energy, humour and humanity, and I would have said that even if he was still at the BBC. I think David Attenborough is pretty cool too.

The cv

1978 Joins ITV after an English degree and theatre school, holding various positions in the regions

1986 Becomes the sales controller of Television South West

1989 Moves to Yorkshire and Tyne Tees TV as sales director

1992 Joins independent media agency PHD as its first broadcast director

1996 Sets up Drum PHD, specialising in sponsorship and editorial marketing

2000 Appointed deputy chairman of PHD Group UK, then chairman in 2003

2006 Leaves PHD after 13 years to become chief executive of Thinkbox; appointed trustee of the Creative and Cultural Skills Board