By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven®

Would you build a house without first consulting an architect? Of course not. How would your builder know what to build? A ranch? A Cape Cod? A mansion?

Business people planning for PR & marketingSo why would you pay for public relations or marketing without first developing a plan?

PR and marketing are expensive. In 2018, U.S. spending on advertising alone — to include digital and non-digital — hit a record high of $208 billion and is expected to continue to grow this year. That’s the dollar amount, but I can hardly imagine how much time is wasted on PR and marketing with no strategy or measurement. Ultimately, it’s all about proving return on investment for the time and money spent.

Countless PR and marketing dollars and hours are wasted every year, as agencies rush to meet deadlines and secure deliverables without considering any broader strategy. The temptation to identify prospective clients and satisfy current ones in the short run often comes at the expense of meeting long-term objectives, while leaving clients with suboptimal returns.

That temptation is compounded by the general nature of the news industry. Because PR and marketing are inextricably linked to the news cycle, agencies are often forced to “put out fires” on behalf of clients. (We have a name for it in the industry: crisis communications. And hourly billables for putting out these fires tend to be upward of $350 with no cap, based on what I’ve seen.) While necessary in many cases, putting out a fire can distract even the most successful agencies from the plan.

When I worked as a marketing assistant out of college or even in the early days of my agency, I often felt like a hamster on a wheel. I spent a lot of my days running around, feeling as busy as a bee, and yet having no idea whether I was even getting anywhere — whether my clients were truly getting somewhere. My bosses and peers didn’t know what I was accomplishing, either, other than appearing very busy and putting in a lot of hours. Because there were so many tasks on my immediate to-do list, I often forgot to ask the important questions: How am I enhancing my client’s brand reputation? How am I growing our customer base and brand recognition? What can our network and reputation look like in six months or a year? Is the task at hand moving us closer to that goal?

The same concept applies in PR and marketing. Get started creating a plan by gathering together the key stakeholders in your or your client’s organization. Allocate three hours for a discovery meeting where you clearly define your overall goals as well as a “SWOT” analysis, or an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Then paint a picture of three or four of your audience personas. Give them a name and define their age, their income level, their occupation and what media they consume. Go online and choose a stock photo of each of your personas so you can picture them in your mind when writing copy for your website, brochures or even speeches.

Now take up to three months to flesh out a plan to target your personas and reach the stated goals. Establish strategies and tactics to better connect with them and engage them to build your brand. Pass the drafts around to get buy-in from your leadership team. Include a timeline, a budget and ways to measure success. Ultimately, your goal is to increase your sales (or donations if you are a nonprofit) and to grow your brand. It’s a lot of work to build the plan, but the more specific it is, the better you will be able to implement it for success.

Your clients deserve no less. Given the amount of money spent on PR and marketing, they deserve only the best possible return on investment. And only by planning for the future can you give it to them.

This article originally appeared on the Forbes Agency Council CommunityVoice in March 2019.