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The Trust Index: A Scorecard for Evaluating Your Agency Partner

When it comes time to evaluate your agency partner, there’s a good chance you’re putting too much weight on the wrong criteria and not enough on the most important one: trust.

In my 25+ years of experience with agency performance scorecards, technical mastery and operational excellence take precedence, simply because they’re thought to be more measurable and indicative of what may be considered a “success.” Did the agency deliver on time? Did they demonstrate the expected capability? While these boxes are important to check off, trust is the pinnacle of a solid relationship—so isn’t that what you should be evaluating? Because if you can’t trust your agency, is their partnership really working for you?

Why Prioritize Trust?

I think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and its parallels in a client-agency relationship. Maslow theorized that human motivation is based on the pursuit of needs at various levels, starting with the most basic and becoming increasingly more complex. Self-actualization, or the idea of reaching our full potential, can only be met once all other needs are satisfied. Layer by layer, need by need, we try and achieve that fulfillment. That’s human nature, right?

Client-agency relationships aren’t much different. At their core, they’re all service-based relationships which focus on delivering expertise. This would be the lowest hanging fruit or most fundamental type of partnership. Beyond that, there are opportunity-based relationships, which focus on addressing a need at a given moment in time. Finally, there are trust-based relationships, which focus on encouraging your success long term. This is where you want to be. This is the goal. Each of these relationship types provides a certain level of value that, when thoughtfully measured, can help you pinpoint an exceptional partner from just a capable one. Easy to say, not as easy to do. So, how do we decide who is a trusted partner?

The Characteristics of a Trusted Agency Partner*

In the case of client-agency relationships, here are some of the traits I find to be most indicative of a trusting partner:

  1. Selflessness: They prioritize you and your needs over their own. This means always doing what’s right for your company over their agency’s rewards or dynamics.
  2. Follow-Through: They’re focused on defining objectives and achieving outcomes. If they hit a bump in the road, they find solutions to guarantee delivery.
  3. A Long-Term Mindset: They’re focused on growing with you, rather than maximizing the short-term benefits for them. Sometimes this means making a sacrifice to preserve the relationship.
  4. Reliability: They prove to be there for you continually, and their value and service extend beyond what’s expected.
  5. Collectivity: They believe that success is tied to the quality of the accumulated experiences of working together. A willingness to collaborate, rather than dictate, shows promise.
  6. Precision: They use methods, techniques, and processes tailored for you and your particular needs—nothing should ever be one-size-fits-all.
  7. Compassion: They want to know and relate to you on a human level, as a person and friend, while also respecting your role.
  8. Accountability: Their actions match their words and they do what they say they’ll do. In some cases, it means acknowledging mistakes (they happen!), asking for feedback, and demonstrating action to avoid repetition in the future.
  9. Caring: At their core, they really do care about your team, your work, and your goals, and they demonstrate it through their actions.

So, how can all of these characteristics be measured to evaluate level of trust in your agency partner?

Tally your scores to determine where your agency stands.    

0-20 (Weak): An Incompatible Match

Much remains to be desired here. Trust in your agency is low, which means it may be difficult to forge a long-term partnership where you’re on the same page. This isn’t to say that the relationship can’t be salvaged, but it’s important to understand which weaknesses can be improved upon or if your issues are beyond repair. It’s worth reconsidering your partnership. 

21-29 (Sub-Standard): An Unsteady Ally

This area falls within the danger zone, but isn’t irreversible. Your agency may demonstrate some strengths in certain areas, but overall, this level is indicative of a problematic partnership that may not be primed for the long run. Look closely at where they fall short and assess accordingly, but remember, actions speak louder than words.

30-39 (Strong): A Promising Partner

You’ve established a healthy level of trust with your agency, which primes your partnership for long-term success. They’ve demonstrated that they “get you” and continually prove their worth. There’s still room for improvement in some areas, but they’ve already shown to have your best interests at heart—now it’s just a matter of openly communicating any areas needing improvement to make your trust in them even stronger.   

40-50 (Ideal): A Trusted Advisor

Congrats! You have a great amount of trust in your agency partner and have established a great foundation for a fruitful, mutually beneficial relationship. This proves that you’re on the same page as your agency and that they’re willing to help you grow beyond just what’s “in scope.” Finding agencies like these are not a dime a dozen, so celebrate your win and hang on tight.

*The Trust Index and Characteristics of an Agency Partner are adapted from David H. Maister’s book, The Trusted Advisor.

At the end of the day, trust is the ultimate test. If the relationship isn't strong, you’re going to pull the thread and things will unravel. But if you can trust your agency, you’re better equipped to get through it together.

At August Jackson, we believe that developing powerful brand engagement begins with mutual understanding and strong partnerships. We value the relationships we have with our clients and, together, aim to develop activations and communities built from the same foundation. 

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