Sheila Mitchell

Marketing Director at Public Health England

Ben Somerset-How

Client Director


Sheila Mitchell is the Marketing Director at Public Health England.

Sheila started her career working in consumer marketing at BT for thirteen years, before joining the Department of Health were she held the position of Marketing Director.

In 2013, Sheila became Marketing Director of the newly created Department of Health’s executive agency, Public Health England.

Sheila holds an MA in French and Italian from the University of Glasgow and a post-graduate degree in Marketing and Languages from Edinburgh Napier University.

creativebrief: As Marketing Director, what is your primary focus?

Sheila Mitchell: My primary focus is on how we gain insight into the different mind-sets of the public and design marketing programmes that help millions of people make healthier lifestyle changes: quitting smoking, getting more active, checking blood pressure, being aware of early signs of cancer, etc. In all the work that we do we are careful that there are no nanny state overtones so we work hard to create engaging brands which are authoritative and positive e.g Stoptober,Change4Life. I am also committed to taking health issues into the everyday lives of people so, integral to everything we do, is working in partnership with other, carefully selected, brands and organisations.
I have recently been appointed to Board of Public Health England which is a real first for the marketing discipline in the public sector. My focus now is much wider in terms of how marketing principles and practice can influence how we address the huge challenges of public health in this country.

creativebrief: What is the biggest issue for your brand today and how are you addressing it?

Sheila Mitchell: We have a small portfolio of audience and event brands (Change4life, Start4Life, Smokefree) that we deploy to talk to people about their health. (This also includes the NHS brand.) The biggest issue is that our health brands have relatively small marketing budgets compared to the scale of the tasks across all life stages and, on top of that, we operate in a highly competitive marketplace where the commercial sector spends over a £billion promoting either unhealthy or relatively unhealthy habits and products. 
However, there are parts of the commercial sector that are responsive to issues around healthier lifestyles and they add substantial support to our brands when we are campaigning. We also have a fantastic asset in the 152 Local Authorities who support our campaigns through localized activity in schools, at community events, roadshows, through local market campaigns etc. In short, the kind of grass roots support that money can’t buy.

creativebrief: Is there a broader initiative that you are driving for the brand outside of the day-to-day?

Sheila Mitchell: We have identified a gap in our brand architecture and will launch a new adult-adult health advice brand in early 2016. This brand will deliver authoritative health advice to an adult audience in an appropriately engaging way and is being designed to work hard in digital space. I think this will be one of our most difficult challenges in terms of getting 40-50 somethings to make lifestyle changes. They have deep-rooted habits that they have lived with for a long time so the wake-up call will have to be powerful and supportive.

creativebrief: What attributes do you think are required for success for a Marketing Director today?

Sheila Mitchell: Any marketing director needs to be across the following:

  • Behaviour Change theory and (for me, the academic and clinical) thinking that informs marketing design 
  • Insight: ensure that this is generated from a multiplicity of sources e.g. consumer, shoppers, analytics etc 
  • Professional knowledge: the marketing agenda is shifting rapidly in data and digital and any marketing director needs to understand the strategic implications of this (if not the detail) in order to design the right organisation, recruit the right kind of agencies and ensure the most relevant and cost effective solutions
  • In the public sector: convince senior stakeholders about the marketing discipline. There is still a tendency to think that the marketing department are the people who do the advertising campaigns so there is a constant requirement to explain the breadth and scope of the discipline and its added value 
  • Flexibility : we operate in political cycles therefore there is a need to balance the strategic approaches to long terms behaviour change with the policies of the day

creativebrief: What work are you most proud of over the course of your career?

Sheila Mitchell: When I was at BT the Maureen Lipmann and It’s Good to Talk campaigns were hugely popular and successful both in persuading people to make more phone calls that generated more revenue for BT and also in improving inter-personal communication behaviours – promoting psychological health if you like.
More recently I have been proud of the big health campaigns like Be Clear on Cancer which is proven to save lives, Stoptober which is a purely marketing created quit opportunity with over 500, 000 people quitting smoking …and Change4Life which has real evidence of creating a new agenda in UK around children’s health and real evidence of influencing consumption of certain foods and drinks.

creativebrief: Industry wide, what work has excited you most this year?

Sheila Mitchell: I think the ongoing work of Cancer Research UK. They took a very brave step a few years ago in taking up the position of “cancer we are coming to get you”, so moving from being victims to a real challenger position. That was brave and shocking but really ramped up the hope aspects of their campaigning agenda. These days I tend to be equally impressed by smart, small scale initiatives that really deliver a consumer benefit. Volvo’s Life Paint is a good example where they produced an invisible spray which covers cyclists and their bikes in reflective particles which, invisible by day, glow at night. This is a great way of communicating the key Volvo brand value of safety as well as saving lives.

creativebrief: Can you tell us about your involvement with WACL?

Sheila Mitchell: I joined WACL a year or so ago and have been genuinely impressed at the professionalism and fun of the organisation. I was particularly interested in the Non Exec group that is run by Francesca Ecsery . The monthly sessions have been a real eye opener into the world and the opportunities for NED roles. All this fabulous experience and knowledge has come through the WACL network. I am a big advocate. 

creativebrief: How do you see the media landscape unfolding in the next 5 years?

Sheila Mitchell: The power of digital and data integration will continue to shift how clients design their marketing programmes and look for increasingly targeted and cost-efficient solutions. In the health space I do not see us moving away completely from the big cut through mass market spikes as very often we are trying to create a cultural norm, e.g. everyone is quitting smoking in January. Over the next five years we should learn how to do content better and I imagine that our financial allocations will shift around substantially.

creativebrief: Do you prefer to use an ‘integrated’ or specialist agency approach?

Sheila Mitchell: We use specialist agencies. Our marketing approach is based on life stage and we have agencies that work across all programmes in Planning, PR, Data, Digital, Partnerships and Media planning and procurement.
When it comes to brands we have a creative agency for each of our life stages and a dedicated agency for Youth programmes.

creativebrief: How do you stay in-touch with the industry’s best agencies and their work?

Sheila Mitchell: I’m always on the look-out for new talent that impresses. One of the challenges at Director level is finding ways of keeping in touch with the industry whilst having an internal focus on organisational governance and board issues. If anyone can help Marketing Directors get a quick take on the industry trends then I am sure there would be takers. My senior team leads are charged with keeping abreast of the market in more detail.

creativebrief: How often do you look at new agencies or review your roster?

Sheila Mitchell: We work as part of the Government procurement service therefore tender any business through the government rosters. Most of our contracts are for 2-3 years.

creativebrief: What’s your attitude to the ‘traditional’ pitch? Is there a better way?

Sheila Mitchell: We recognise that agencies have to invest time and money in pitching so we try to ensure that we stage our pitching requirements. If possible we do face to face briefings followed up by a strategy response from agencies. At this point we will shortlist for creative responses and on major briefs ensure that we have tissue sessions and chemistry sessions. We try to be clear with agencies on how we are scoring and the allocation between strategy, creativity and financial considerations.




Thursday 13th November 2014,

Portcullis House - Parliament


Silla Maizey

Sheila MItchell

‘Government appointments, is it a path to commercial NEDs’


Under the spotlight: Sheila Mitchell, marketing director, Public Health England


Public Health England, the newly-created executive body of the Department of Health (DH), has released its first marketing strategy.

Sheila Mitchell (left), now the body's marketing director, spoke to Marketing about the effect of PHE on her work and some of the key points of the strategy.



Why vote for Mitchell?

Mitchell, who is responsible for the UK’s biggest public sector marketing programme, has had a vintage year. Under her direction its marketing has won more than 40 industry awards (including IPA Gold) in the past 12 months. Mitchell has had a busy time of late.

Marketing Society


Public Health England sharpens content focus for Stoptober push in bid to be an ‘always on marketer’

Finding new ways to get smokers to kick the habit every September is tricky even for the most prolific marketers, which is why Public Health England is making this year’s Stoptober more content-driven.

This month’s campaign picks up where last year’s ended, dialling up the humour first struck by recruiting a comedians Bill Bailey, Rhod Gilbert, Shappi Khorsandi to promote the cause alongside the returning Al Murray (as The Pub Landlord).

It smacks of an ‘if aint broke, don’t fix it' approach from the government agency though this time there’s a greater focus on making Stoptober participants feel like they’re not alone as they go through the testing period

The Drum