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Trust is the magic ingredient for strong business relationships - here's how to create it

by Kim Walker

August 4, 2022

Successful relationships are characterized by many attributes, but the one universal ingredient is trust. A recent IPA report examining the key characteristics and contexts of long-term relationships highlights trust as one of the critical conditions required for growth, longevity and commercial success.

Without trust relationship cannot hope to flourish, and new figures from our global database of more than 25,000 client-agency evaluations over 20 years show that trust can be both built, and improved, in business relationships.

Lower-performing agencies have the opportunity to improve their trust scores by 31 points, and clients can boost trust by 33 points – a significant gap demonstrating the importance of trust.

In fact for agencies, trust is the third most-important behavior they value in their marketing clients of the seven behaviors Aprais studies, behind Functional (ability to do the job) and Communication. The other behaviors are: accountability; goals; challenge and resilience.

For clients, trust in their agencies is also a differentiator, rating above communication and challenge among the top performers.

Building trust step by step

Academic research suggests that trust develops in stages and forms, and being aware of these can help marketers and agencies develop strategies to build trust.

Stages evolve as the relationship develops:

1. Exploration, during which clients examine the reputation of agencies to determine whether they are worthy of trust.

2. Expansion, where trust grows as communication improves, conflicts are resolved and sympathy between parties develops.

3. Maintenance, when parties simply focus on continuing the relationship.

Forms of trust also evolve alongside the relationship:

1. Calculative trust – clients calculate the risks involved in trusting the agency, for example if the agency is known for controversial work or pushing boundaries.

2. Cognitive trust – clients make assessments and calculations based on the history of the relationship. How likely is the agency to meet expectations?

3. Effective trust – perhaps the best-known form of trust, in which genuine bonding and warmth develop between parties as an external representation of the trust build over the duration of the relationship.

Trust over time

Has trust always mattered? Looking back over the last decade of data, it would appear so as scores for trust have improved by a fairly modest 5% since 2011.

Other behaviors studied by Aprais have certainly made greater leaps over this time, but historically trust has always been the highest-scoring behavior in our dataset, cementing it as a core priority for all client-agency relationships regardless of era or challenges faced.

Improving trust

Trust is earned when actions and words align, and trust at a team level comes from trust at an individual level. With these principles in mind, agencies and clients can improve their trust scores with the following action points:


1. Positively promote a culture of trust internally, through open and honest communication.

2. Be transparent through all aspects of financial management in relationships.

3. Collaborate with a spirit of friendship and professionalism with all communications partners, with a focus on building the brand at the heart.

4. Individual staff should be enthusiastic, engaged and demonstrably enjoy working on the client’s brand or business.

5. Maintain strong relationships at senior level within the client’s organisation.


1. Compensate the agency fairly and keep them aware of any budgetary constraints.

2. Keep promises and deliver on commitments.

3. Celebrate success and address problems and challenges collaboratively.

4. Ensure constructive working relationships between and within roster agencies.

5. Understand and respect agencies’ ways of working and internal processes.

Download our free report on Trust in business relationships here.


client-agency evaluations
client-agency relationships
Agency Business