Four pillars of successful relationships

Valentine’s Day gives cause to reflect on the value of relationships, both personal and business.

The value of business relationships

The month of love is upon us and convenience stores and garage forecourts are preparing for the annual rush for the last tattered bunch of roses and box of chocolates. Meanwhile, the single – by choice or otherwise – are gearing up to either ignore the hyper focus on the romantic, or to find their own version of it within their families, friendships and communities. Must be February.

It’s all about relationships

Essentially Valentine’s Day is a focus on relationship, generally romantic relationships but this definition has been broadened and deepened. Galentine’s Day has now become a culturally accepted phenomenon, complete with entry into the Urban Dictionary and of course, many a marketing campaign encouraging women to celebrate all things BFF. No word yet if a male equivalent is in the offing (Brolentine’s doesn’t have the same ring) or a gender-neutral expression (Palentine’s?) but here at Aprais, we think every day is a day to focus on relationships. Specifically, business relationships.

As it turns out, any successful relationship broadly boils down to the same key elements, even if what that success looks like is different. We (generally) don’t want to marry or be BFFs with our clients or agencies. But we do want to work together to achieve the best possible outcome for both parties. Stronger business relationships, that lead to stronger business.

Let’s take a deep dive, then, into what makes a successful relationship.


There’s no getting away from it, trust is king. In our global database of more than 25,000 client-agency evaluations we not only hold scores on the strength of these relationships, but also on specific behaviours exhibited within these relationships. There are seven in total, and year after year, one always emerges the highest-ranked behaviour for both clients and agencies. Trust.

Measuring behaviours in business relationships
Source: Aprais 25,000 evaluations

Between romantic partners and friends, trust is essentially the attribute of doing what you say you’ll do, and not doing what you say you won’t do. Generally trust is related to other prized characteristics and behaviours such as fidelity (within monogamous relationships) and honesty. In the context of client-agency relationships, we define trust as ‘The team is trusted to deliver and behaves with integrity’. Our data consistently shows that without trust business relationships can’t hope to flourish. It’s not the only ingredient, as successful relationships are the result of a multitude of factors, but it remains the universal ingredient.


The ability to perceive things from another’s frame of reference – see what others see – is a key attribute of general emotional intelligence, and a crucial factor within relationships. For couples, arguments arise when partners cannot empathise with the other’s point of view, whether or not they agree with it. For business partnerships, empathy is essential in order for individuals to appreciate and understand the complexity and challenges of the respective roles occupied. But there’s another form of empathy our data shows is vital to successful business relationships and we call it financial empathy. Our figures show that marketers who are rated highly by their agencies for their financial regard, rate their agencies 20% higher for staff allocation. This suggests clients that take a fair approach to agency renumeration feel they get better value from the relationship with their agency. This fair approach comes from understanding the financial pressures facing agencies and acting with these pressures in mind.


Truly the cornerstone of all relationships, communication is one of those essential ingredients that it’s easy to get wrong. How to communicate, when to communicate, how much to communicate and how often to communicate are all up for debate. Just ask any couple what they argue about most and after ‘money’, it’s probably communication. They talk too much, they don’t listen, they bottle it all up and then explode, they never talk but expect me to know what they’re thinking….the list goes on. Given that all relationships are different, it’s impossible to have hard and fast rules around communication, but our data shows that improving communication will improve the relationship overall. This is particularly true given that we are all in the business of communications, and therefore meant to be experts in this behaviour! What our data also shows, is that quality of communication is more important than quantity. Daily check-ins can have a detrimental effect on the mental health of individuals within teams and lead to an ‘always-on’ mentality. And multiple channels – email, WhatsApp, Teams, Zoom, face-to-face, telephone, text message – can create confusion and overwhelm. 

Communication also comes in the form of regular evaluations between partners. Aprais advocates evaluations every six-months. A year is too long. It allows problems to fester and worsen if left unsaid. More frequent evaluations risk survey fatigue leading to compliance challenges. Quarterly reviews arguably don’t afford enough time for corrective action between evaluations.


Trust, empathy and communication all tend to promote harmony. Challenge is the outlier, in that it’s the process of questioning the status quo rather than going along with it. You might think we’re talking about arguments but here again is where communication comes in – it’s possible to challenge the way things are done, without ‘being argumentative’. And it’s worth it. Our data consistently shows that the best business relationships are characterised by a willingness to challenge the status quo, and the poorest-performing, by a lack of challenge. It’s become more important over the last decade too, as the business and wider cultural landscape has changed. Challenge has become more demanded of agencies and their marketer clients. At its core challenge takes us out of our comfort zones, which is a required element for growth, personally and professionally.

Five reasons why relationships matter
  1. Stronger relationships produce higher quality work
  2. Stronger relationships build valuable shared knowledge
  3. Stronger relationships motivate staff to go the extra mile for each other
  4. Stronger relationships bridge the gap between corporate cultures
  5. Stronger relationships are more cost efficient