Sometimes reading social media posts makes the world seem like a place where deals are always made, promotions are always secured, and the thing that was tried always worked.

This is not one of those posts.

At the start of December, H·A ThirtyOne, received an 11th hour call for a project proposal. The potential client was in a bind and really needed help. He turned to us because he’d been pleased with our work in the past. Even though he wasn’t in a public bid situation, he was securing proposals from a couple of other firms.

We hustled. We developed a tailored proposal to fit the needs of his specific situation. We delivered. But a week after the proposal was submitted, we received another call. We didn’t win the project.

Of course, we were disappointed. We were already looking forward to supporting this great school and working with them in unique ways to help them meet their goals. But you win some, you lose some. Right?

A few days later, the Vice President and I were able to connect and talk a bit more about why we didn’t get the project. This is an important step that doesn’t always feel great but is one of the best ways to improve our process and offering. “What could we have done better?” is the question I want to get answered and then take that knowledge forward. It’s something that all H·A ThirtyOne-ers ask, of themselves and of others, in their daily work and in situations like this.

What I learned from the post-proposal call was that we did win the project. The prospective client had decided, based on factors I’ll detail below, that we were the firm he was going to select. There was only one problem…his administration had not yet delivered the funds promised for the project. Wisely, the VP saw that the business operations of his institution were going to potentially throw a wrench into his enrollment operations. It came down to timing. (Aside: It’s actually pretty amazing when other divisions — from advancement to academics to student life — are unfamiliar with the extreme time-sensitivity of admissions. There are activities that must take place in an ongoing fashion and then there are initiatives that have a very specific window of time to work, and then it’s another year (and another class) until that window opens again.) He punted. He decided to make due for another year and try to accomplish incremental improvements with his in-house team.

I understood his decision and appreciated his not putting H·A ThirtyOne in an awkward spot of watching a clock to begin work, seeing the opportunities for biggest impact tick away.

But what I appreciated even more was his candor about our process.

He let me know that our firm had asked more questions than anyone else he spoke with, and ours were good questions. He recognized that we were taking the time to truly understand his issues, his capabilities, and needs, and to craft a solution that focused attention on specific areas to make a difference. 

He said that other firms were very willing to “take his business,” but were only interested in providing an off-the-shelf solution or “their way.” Only our firm took the time to have multiple conversations and think creatively to help him stay in his budget and reach his goals. He said he recognized our expertise was at a deeper level than the other firms and that our commitment to partnership was genuine.

This is perhaps the best feedback a gal can get.

So no. We didn’t win the project. But we did win the relationship. And I think we absolutely came away from this particular experience as the winners.

Karyn Adams serves as H·A ThirtyOne’s principal and creative director, working closely with enrollment leadership and strategic communicators on campuses across the country. She is a frequent presenter and speaker at higher ed conferences and events, including NACACSACACAMA, and UCDA. Connect with her about your potential project or event @karynadams or via