Alice Tonge on departing 4Creative: 'Leave a party with your lipstick fresh'

Outgoing 4Creative head Alice Tonge

“A friend of mine said to me ‘leave a party with your lipstick fresh’,” says Alice Tonge when The Drum catches up with her, one month after she announced that she will step down as head of Channel 4's in-house agency 4Creative this summer, after 15 years with the business.

When Tonge announced her departure in April, she said she was taking a short break before moving onto her next role. “I want a fucking holiday if I’m honest,” she admits. “After 15 years I deserve a holiday.”

After taking a year to spend with her daughter before she begins primary school, Tonge says she hopes her next role will allow her to create her most daring work yet. "I want to make big, bold creative work. I want to scare myself," she says of her next creative adventure.

"I’ve been so lucky at 4Creative that I’ve been able to champion disability and diversity, and I would love to continue doing that in some way,” Tonge admits.

"I want to champion female talent to inspire more women in the industry," says Tonge, who as 4Creative's first female head feels driven to inspire more women to follow in her step to "climb that bloody ladder to get to the top."

Tonge joined Channel 4’s in-house creative agency in 2005 as head of creative and design - a position she held for 12 years. In 2017 she became 4Creative’s first female head, picking up from where John Allison and Chris Bovill’s joint leadership left off.

Tonge, who was crowned Creative Woman of the Year by The Drum in 2017, has been responsible for some of the industry’s most ground-breaking and culturally potent campaigns during her tenure at the agency.

A self-determined hero of the alternate voice, 4Creative has positioned itself as a champion of diversity.

During her tenure, 4Creative has hired five people with communication difficulties to introduce programmes on its broadcaster channels, trolled Russia's Sochi winter Olympics with a pro-LBGTQ+ message and created an evocative film for the centenary of the women's vote.

"We've been fortunate that creative risk is stitched into the DNA of Channel 4, which was set up to take creative risks to challenge the status quo," says Tonge.

The partnership between Channel 4 and its in-house creative team has an interesting blueprint for other broadcasters to follow, with the BBC even taking a near-carbon copy of 4Creative for its own creative department.

In recent year, the agency model has felt the threat from the rise of in-housing and Tonge feels the model is its success.

"Everything we're promoting is promoting the place we work," Tonge says on her experience of working in-house. "It's streamlined having it all in one building. It's the way you can seed an idea that isn't a big grand presentation for a client."

Tonge says she sees it as "a jigsaw puzzle - all the pieces have to fit. So you have the creative, the idea, the people who make it and the people who buy it. They've all got to fit together, all on the same page."

"Reaching other parts of the UK is absolutely what a British broadcaster should do," added Tonge on Channel 4's decision to open regional offices in Bristol, Leeds and Glasgow.

The broadcasters restructure saw 300 of its 800 London-based staff scattered across the UK.

"It's an incredible place and a hard place to leave," Tonge says of her departure. "I"m not leaving because the opportunities have run out, they are there for the next person to what they want with them. I'm at a new stage in my life, and it's time for something new."

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