Stuart Heir


Stuart Heir

Job Title

Co Founder - Agency

Stuart began his career in traditional PR and consumer tech before moving to a healthcare agency. A creative director and now co-founder of his agency Stirred, Stuart shares his career story, how he uses creativity to create compelling campaigns and tips for those aspiring to enter the Healthcare Communications sector.


Why did you decide to change career direction?

My career shift happened by chance. I moved to Brighton with the expectation of commuting back to London five days a week, as was the norm then. After a year of enduring a daily 4-hour round trip, I realised it was unsustainable. So, I took a chance on a small healthcare agency in Worthing called Pegasus.


How did you hear about Healthcare Communications?

I was aware of the sector but didn’t know much about it. It seemed to operate slightly outside the traditional comms industry and other sectors. Joining Pegasus was my first taste of a pure health agency, although at the time it was a very consumer / natural health client list so it didn’t feel unfamiliar.


How did you move into the sector and find your first role?

An old chairman from my first company, who was a non-executive director at Pegasus, introduced me to the agency.

At the time, I was building the consumer arm of a technology agency, and he guessed the commute might have been taking its toll. With one of Pegasus’s leadership team going on maternity leave for a year, they planned to bring in an additional board member, grow the business, and have a bigger board upon her return. They’d never had a creative director, so it was a leap into the unknown for all of us.


What were your transferable skills?

I’d always been in creative roles, starting in traditional PR agency setups. All my skills were transferable and still are for anyone considering a move. The only difference is the subject matter and, in certain areas, added regulation.


What tips would you give someone who wants to move into the sector?

Don’t believe the myth that it’s less creative than more traditional consumer sectors. It might be different, but there is ample opportunity to flex your creative muscles with increasing client appetite for innovation.

Do your research. Healthcare is broad and there are plenty of opportunities across many different aspects – pharma, health tech, consumer health, natural health, healthy beauty, animal health, public health. There’s something to suit everyone. 

Take the plunge. What’s the worst that can happen? If it doesn’t suit you, you can always move around until you find what feels ‘right‘. I doubt that would be the case though. 


How did your previous roles help prepare you to transition into the Healthcare Comms sector?

My consumer client background (mainly beer and football, but also financial services, so another regulated industry) and consumer tech (LinkedIn) allowed me to bring more mainstream thinking and ways of working into a sector that was crying out for it.

This was when the explosion of new social media channels meant healthcare companies needed to understand patients as people and when patients were becoming better informed and more connected with each other. The traditional route of influencing what happens in health just through HCPs was no longer the case. Having worked across more digital and social clients and campaigns, I had lots to bring to a sector that was still playing catch up.  


What do you enjoy about using your creativity at work?

We have the chance to make a huge and positive impact on millions of people’s lives. Not many people are lucky enough to be able to say that.

I love the pitch process, from getting the brief to building out a creative response. I’m competitive and enjoy the challenge, though I believe prospective clients should better value the effort and costs involved.

As a young agency, we’ve harnessed creativity for our marketing, through social content plans and eye-catching sponsorships to get noticed.


What skills do you think are most important in your role?

Being a natural creative thinker who loves ideas and is interested in the world.

Having emotional intelligence. Being able to place yourself in someone else’s shoes or simply being able to read the room. People buy people and it’s a skill that has served me well.

Seeing the possibilities – whether in a campaign, idea or our business ambitions.


How would you describe your role?

Along with my co-founder, I am building and helping shape a young agency that wants to help people make better decisions about their health. We do this through a mix of campaigns and programmes that speak to many different groups, from healthcare professionals through to the public.


What does a typical week at work look like?

Now I am a co-founder, it’s a bit different to when I was a creative director. Back then, I had overall responsibility for the agency’s creative reputation and a creative and digital team of 20 or so people that we’d built from scratch.

Much of my role was focused on new business, so leading the creative response to pitches, running brainstorm sessions and generally clearing any barriers to my team being able to deliver great work.

Now, I handle a bit of everything, though I maintain a close eye on creative projects.


What has been your proudest moment?

There have been lots. Work-wise, probably the integrated Samaritans campaign – Small Talk Saves Lives. I led the pitch for it and the campaign not only went on to win dozens of awards for every aspect, including brand film, social and traditional media, and strategy – but more importantly, it has measurably reduced suicide on the rail network and helped to save lives.

We built the campaign using the UCL COM-B framework, so it was grounded in academic behaviour change theory. I was lucky enough to open the health track speaker programme at Cannes Lions, alongside a colleague and UCL, where we showcased our work. It was an amazing campaign and one I am very proud of.  

Beyond work, launching Stirred was a significant moment. I’d never intended to launch an agency but having left Pegasus to do other things in 2020, the pandemic changed everything. I spent the summer sat on Brighton beach which gave me the head space to think about what I wanted to do and happened to talk Jo, my business partner and old board colleague. She was in a similar place and within two weeks we’d decided to give it a go. It’s been an amazing first few years.


What has been your greatest challenge and how did you overcome it?

Transforming my previous company from a traditional PR agency to a fully integrated marketing one was a significant challenge.

It threw up lots of challenges and was at times frustrating, trying to get people to see what you could see by way of potential impact on the work we could do and the reputation we could build. I learnt about agency models, but also how people react to change. It didn’t happen overnight and required us to bring in many people from outside our traditional world, who all brought different thinking and experiences. Setting out a direction of travel and visualising your destination but being open to exactly how you might get there was central to how we overcame the challenges along the way.

This willingness to bring in thinking from outside health is one of the central components to the Stirred proposition and we’re now able to put everything we learned into our new venture, hopefully meaning we are well placed to succeed.   


What are your future goals?

It’s all about building a young business. Stirred is only three years old, but we are already up to 11 people and working with some amazing clients. Our mission is to match the innovation of the health sector with the communications innovation it deserves, so the future is about how we deliver on that – and as a fully certified B Corp, ensuring we do it a certain way.


What do you love about working in Healthcare Communications?

It’s a sector that’s naturally grounded in more purposeful work. While many sectors have flirted with purpose – quite often using it as a hollow marketing vehicle – helping people to live better, be healthier or manage long-term conditions is so much more rewarding on a day-to-day level. Don’t get me wrong, I loved working for beer and football clients, but moving into health was the best decision I ever made. I can get my beer and football fix in other ways!