Magnet Communications’ Professional Development Initiative (PDI) is a program that offers hands-on training for Magnet’s junior staff through the pro-bono servicing of a non-profit client.  The PDI program is unique in the industry because it was entirely initiated and developed by the company’s junior staff based on their professional development goals.  This ensured true learning and participation and allows for an ever-evolving program that changes with its participants and their objectives.


To advance in any industry, a young professional must demonstrate that he or she possesses the skills required for the next level.  But until the professional has attained this level, he or she is often prevented from practicing the skills required.  While companies, including Magnet, often provide seminars and workshops to teach junior staff PR basics, these skills are not truly learned or demonstrated until on-the-job experience allows the skills to be practiced.  The problem is – how do you get the experience until you advance to the next level, but how do you advance without getting the experience?

This Catch-22 is exactly what drove the junior staff at Magnet to develop the PDI program.


Recognizing the importance of hands-on training and gaining the “big picture” perspective for a client, the junior staff of Magnet’s Pittsburgh office decided they needed a client of their own – a non-profit client.  This would allow successful fulfillment of both their professional and personal goals – professional development through on-the-job experience, charitable contribution, community involvement and Magnet promotion. The junior staff would take on all levels of account management for a pro-bono client of their collective choice for one-year, allowing the opportunity to work with a client through all phases of the client/agency relationship.

The team asked a senior staff member to serve as a mentor and put together a plan for PDI.  They presented the plan to their practice head and CEO, and communicated the following goals:

Professional development – To broaden PR experience and take greater ownership for a client.

Charitable contribution – To benefit an altruistic organization and make a positive impact in the community of Pittsburgh.

Agency promotion – To gain greater visibility for the agency within the Pittsburgh community, which could eventually lead to new business opportunities.

The PDI team reviewed several potential client candidates and selected Conservation Consultants, Inc. (CCI) because of the synergy between the work required for this client and the work the team was doing for some of the agency’s current clients.  They provided an estimate of time and out-of-pocket resources required from the agency, while, at the same time, committing to personal time to be spent on the project outside of those spent during the working hours.  The program was enthusiastically received and supported by senior management.

Through the program, PDI’s Year One team gained experience in client presentations, program planning, media training, branding and logo development, event planning and much more.  The program’s first year was an incredible success for all parties involved – the junior staff, the pro-bono client and Magnet Communications – a win/win/win result that has prompted Magnet to expand the program significantly in Year Two.  


Just as Magnet had given the PDI team the flexibility to develop a program that reflected their goals, the PDI team gave this same opportunity to CCI.  After making a capabilities presentation to CCI, as with any new business prospect, Magnet and CCI developed goals for the relationship.  

CCI, an umbrella organization with several programs focused on urban renewal, needed a more focused communication plan and messages for their organization, and basic PR skills so they could continue building relationships with the media once their relationship with Magnet ended.  The team put together a complete, one-year communications plan to meet these goals.  After presenting the plan to CCI and prioritizing next steps, the team conducted a communications audit and prepared a CCI “program leader” survey to find out more about the organization and identify common communications goals and key messages between CCI programs.  

They conducted branding exercises and brainstormed tagline suggestions.  The team also worked with a designer to produce a CCI logo, helping create the requested “identity” for CCI.  They provided two workshops for CCI program leaders: media training and news bureau training.  In addition, the team assisted CCI with PR work throughout this time to help them “learn by doing,” just as the PDI team was doing itself. 


The PDI team measured the success of their work for CCI with an agency client evaluation (ACE) survey.  Results showed that 100 percent of CCI participants believed that their understanding of PR had improved.  One hundred percent also said that the PDI team completely met their expectations.


All PDI participants had the opportunity to learn new PR skills.

All made their first client presentations through the PDI program.

All contributed to a comprehensive communications plan.

Many conducted media training – a skill somewhat rare even among senior staff members, making this experience particularly valuable.

Some gained experience in budgeting and billing.

All gained additional experience in daily client work – press release writing, collateral material development, event planning, etc.

The two interns who participated in the program both felt it was the most valuable part of their internship.

The results of CCI’s agency evaluation survey showed that the team had made a valuable charitable contribution (see above).

The commitment on the part of the junior staff for the project was incredible.  They volunteered additional time outside the office (without exceeding their estimate for time spent during office hours on PDI) demonstrating the successful buy-in participants felt for the program.

The agency received two new business leads through referrals by CCI’s director.

The PDI Year Two team has expanded the program to take on two new clients, and Magnet has committed to integrating the program into more of its eight offices this year.
Since the time the PDI program was launched, Magnet has developed Magnet Academy, providing a formal structure and curriculum agency-wide.