Philip Young and Kelly O'Hanlon

Kelly and Philip profileBA (Hons) Public Relations and Media Course Directors

Could you tell us about your experience and how this feeds into your course?

PhilipI was an award-winning journalist and ran a successful PR agency before moving into teaching so I have a lot of practical experience to draw on. I have been researching the impact of social media on PR practice since it began. It is really important that our students understand the latest developments and trends - staying ahead of the game is vital to our success.

Kelly: I am a BCU graduate myself so have seen what a different the course can make, and have over 14 years of experience working in PR agencies on consumer and B2B PR. I bring my contacts and campaigns into the classroom for insightful workshops and regularly present live PR briefs for students to work on. I am also Treasurer for the CIPR Midlands and ensure that our work is recognised and our students gain networking opportunities, plus it helps us to cultivate collaboration and placement opportunities. I am also part of the blogging and influencer community and this feeds into various modules.

What is the philosophy of your course?

Philip: It is all about jobs, about employability. There are so many opportunities in PR and the field is expanding all the time. Our role is to build knowledge and skills, help students to be critical, and to develop soft skills around empathy and cultural understanding. We want them to leave us brimming with confidence, socially aware, and ready for a range of challenges. 

Kelly: For me, it’s always been about making a clear connection between the classroom and current PR practice. Many people who work in PR do not have PR, media or communications related degrees yet they employ these skills every day. Our students learn fundamental skills from day one, but even more than that, they apply them, so they are more aware, more able and therefore more job ready.

If you had to name one thing about your course that makes it distinct, what would it be?

Kelly: Opportunities. We work hard to provide a whole host of opportunities for students to develop their understanding, experience and contacts. From supporting the School’s social media content to regular industry speakers and workshops, to working on and attending CIPR events or even getting hands-on with real campaigns with project partners. Nowhere else creates so many possibilities for PR students to grow and thrive.

Philip: We teach PR with media, in a media school. We develop practical skills but we also appreciate that PR impacts on society, on how we see the world. In an era of fake news, of constant promotion, it is vital to understand the processes that shape our thinking and experience. 

Why is Birmingham a good place to study?

Kelly: I love this city and never returned home after I came to study here myself because it has so much to offer. It’s at the heart of the country, so well connected, and there’s a real excitement about it. You don’t have to go to the bright lights of London to pursue an exciting PR career, as Birmingham and its surrounding areas are a hotbed for PR agencies and creative companies.

Why do you believe it’s important to study a degree and why might students want to study your course?

Philip: University is about so much more than simply studying a subject, learning facts and figures. BCU is an exciting environment that offers so many opportunities to experience new things, meet new people, to be creative and experiment. You are surrounded by interesting people, from fellow students to guest speakers. Whether it’s joining field trips to exciting new cities, studying abroad on an exchange, working with others in our state of the art TV and radio studios, or volunteering to help on social projects, there is always something to do. Getting involved in everything university has to offer is the way to stand out from the crowd and build a rewarding career.

Kelly: It took me a good couple of years ‘on the job’ to understand some of the basic principles of PR, whereas key ideas and techniques are intrinsic to our PR degree. Everyone is influenced and impacted by the media, by PR activities and by developments in social media, both consciously and on a subconscious level. Every kind of organisation, from the NHS to Coca-Cola to Aston Villa, and every type of individual, including celebrities, politicians and influencers, uses PR to engage with the people that matter to them. Studying the intentions and impact of PR is not only fascinating, it also opens up many promising career paths.

Where will the students be based in their time here and what will their learning environment be?

Kelly: We make use of a range of classrooms across campus and encourage students to bring examples in for discussion. There’s often field trips and events where we can go and see PR and media in practice, plus we have a live student PR agency that simulates a working environment, so there’s many different experiences that combine to make up our course.

What can students do to help prepare them for the course?

Kelly: Keep those eyes peeled! Start looking at the media you consume, social media content you engage with, the stories you click on. Consider why you are doing what you are doing, and who might be behind the message. Are you being influenced? What tactics have been used to make you think and act that way? How could you develop your own ideas to be as compelling?

What’s your favourite element about working at Birmingham School of Media?

Kelly: Seeing the students develop. University is a journey of discovery and it’s a period of transformation. I am inspired by the things my students go on to do and can’t wait to bring them back to show the next cohort what lies ahead if they engage and throw themselves into all the university, school and course has to offer.

Philip: Seeing students succeed! Remembering what they were like when they came to us, watching them graduate, and then welcoming them back in years to come, hearing about their brilliant careers.