I don’t usually post about current events on here, mostly because I don’t like writing things that so quickly become obsolete, but this one event particularly grabbed me. So, over the past day or so, there’s been a conflict brewing over the internet between the organizers of the GaymerX convention and video game localizers NIS America regarding an unpaid sponsorship agreement. I’ve handled both events management and PR/marketing in the past, so a lot of what’s been going on seemed pretty familiar to me. Unexpected things happen. Especially when money’s involved. And especially between two small organizations like this. That’s nothing unusual. What is unusual, though, is the rampant incompetence on display. Seriously, neither side comes out of this looking good. This problem never had to happen, and it never had to progress the way it did, but for idiocy in place on both sides of the issue.
So, to bring the uninitiated up to speed, here’s the ground level info. GaymerX is a convention produced by MidBoss, a gaming company under CEO and America’s Worst Driver Matt Conn, aimed at providing an LGBTQ perspective on the video games industry that you’ve probably heard about but never given much thought to because, well, it’s still a really small con. They were having their second convention just a few weeks ago. Conn had been speaking with David Alonzo, Marketing/PR dude at NIS America, localizer of unusual, niche, and sometimes just plain creepy Japanese video games, about sponsoring the VIP Party at the convention. Alonzo, representing NIS, agreed to provide $3000 to become a Gold Sponsor for the event, getting a bunch of promotional material and a special ‘Prinny Cocktail’ in honor of one of their more prominent characters at the party. All well and good, right?
Just one thing. Alonzo didn’t have the authority to unilaterally commit to that expense, apparently never ran it past those who need to sign off on those things, and found out just a few days ago that NIS America didn’t have the budget for it.
Alonzo, perhaps thinking himself good and just by doing so, immediately e-mailed Mr. Conn about it.
That’s a pretty bad situation for GaymerX, right? They had made an agreement, provided a service, and now find out they are not going to be paid for what they had done. There are a variety of actions they could take. They could maintain communications, either with Alonzo himself or with someone higher up the echelon. After all, the case seems very, incredibly clear. By every legal and moral standard, NIS America had agreed to provide payment for a service, received the service, and now are withholding payment for that service. Similarly, they could begin exploring the possibility of legal action. For a small sum as this, it’d likely fall under small claims court, so they wouldn’t need any lawyers involved, and it’d be a cinch to both prove their case and receive court expenses for doing so. The facts, at least as they are publicly presented, are quite clear on this front.
Instead, Conn immediately lashed out publicly, tweeting the above e-mail and tagging several video games journalists, then claimed through at least one interview and through his own twitter account that NIS America was “bullying” the “queer geeks”, implying very directly that they were discriminating against GaymerX for the organizers’ and the attendees’ sexualities. I have no idea how long he kept this up, as the offending tweets have since been deleted, but judging by the discussions of the topic they were going on for a significant amount of time.
Of course, this morning, it seems everything’s been settled, NIS’s paid up, and people are making self-serving apologies all around. The internet loves some good gossip, though, and I feel this is a matter that’s worth exploring, given the severity of things involved. So, what do you say we go spelunking into the matter?
Let’s take things on chronologically. Which means we’re starting with David Alonzo. Now, Alonzo’s not nearly as much of a public figure as Conn is, but we do have a bit of information about him. As the above e-mail suggests, he seems to be pretty new at the company. By all indications, he’s only been NIS America’s Marketing Coordinator for a couple of months. Moreover, his LinkedIn profile has him tagged quite a bit for things like web and graphic design, but he’s got nothing for any general sort of marketing experience, nor any management experience, both of which would come from positions with a higher level of authority and responsibility than a graphic/web designer. So the job he’s in now is likely of a type completely different than any he’s had before, and he’s really fresh to it, too. Just a bit of background information here. Might make his incompetence in moving forward through this a bit easier to understand.
So, a lot, a lot, of people have been accusing NIS America of simply trying to renege out of the deal to save the $3000. That seems possible, but very unlikely, to me. Any company that gets in the habit of not paying what they owe aren’t a company for long, and the $3000 would not be worth the poor publicity that would, and did, inevitably result from withholding it. Rather, I think the actual cause involves a lot less greed and malice, and a lot more straight foolishness. Rather than assigning evil to NIS America, I’m inclined to believe Alonzo’s claim that he’s 100% responsible for the potential screwing over of GaymerX. Remember that, in spite of what American law says, companies aren’t people. They’re not a singular entity, rather they’re a vehicle for groups of people to organize their contributions towards a common goal. Nothing happens to a company without a person involved making it happen. And that person, in this case, is David Alonzo.
I think I’m currently in the same position as Alonzo is, in relation to control over the budget. Namely, I can and do make purchasing decisions on behalf of my organization, but I need to have my supervisor sign off it before any final commitments can be made. I get requests for sponsorships and donations all the time. Sometimes, I’m able to fill them. Every time someone asks me for money, and I think the cause is valid, though, the correct response is always something along the lines of “tentatively yes, but let me check up to make sure”. Every single time. As I need someone else to approve these expenditures, I can never make these commitments unilaterally. For David Alonzo, though, the answer was “Yes, we’ll totally commit to sponsoring this!”, even though he had no authority to do so. That was mistake number 1.
Mistake number 2 was apparently never taking it to those who actually could make those decisions. Now, I’m making an assumption here, but since he apparently didn’t realize that he couldn’t spend the money until the day he sent that e-mail, I’m willing to bet that most of the rest of the company was mostly unaware of what he was doing. Especially those who were overseeing that budget. And I can absolutely guarantee that there’s more than one person who knows whats going on with the budget in the company. Yes, NIS America is tiny, but if only one person was tracking the budget, the organization would have fallen apart ages ago. I find Alonzo’s claim that he had to wait for the games producer to return to find out if he could spend the money or not to be really suspicious.
And mistake number 3? That’d be sending the e-mail as soon as he found out about the problem. I mean seriously, this is a major issue, especially for someone who’s supposed to be handling PR. Now, most businesses and organizations don’t want you to know this, but entities have delays and problems with filling fiscal responsibilities all the time. Any organization larger than a sole proprietorship absolutely need to have checks and balances in place, and almost all of them will have financial and accounting departments well established. All this adds several steps to the process of cutting checks, and every step adds delays and the potential for error. You absolutely, absolutely never tell someone you owe money to that something’s going wrong until the matter has fully resolved its course internally. If you do, you end up with problems like, well, this. And there’s no way that anything but the worst-run organizations will be able to finalize the decision to not pay for received services or products within a single day. This e-mail should never have gone out, at least, not until things were settled.
Now, it seems a little shady to me that a marketer would be trying to take funds out of a ‘games’ budget, but knowing next to nothing about NIS’s internal structure, I’ll leave that matter up to Alonzo’s supervisor.
So… yeah, Alonzo screwed up at every step of the way. However, the liability for the payment to GaymerX is still valid. There are certain positions you can’t take confirmation of contributions from. For example, if our intern or one of our custodians tells you that my office is going to buy a billion dollars worth of your product, you can be reasonably certain that they don’t have the authority to do so. However, Alonzo is the Marketing Coordinator, and Conn had the ability to take it in good faith that he had the authority he projected to make such payments. Moreover, GaymerX did apparently provide NIS America with an invoice three days before the event, which is really cutting it close, but does give them enough time to call it off if they needed to. NIS America did owe GaymerX $3,000, but as Alonzo really should have known better, NIS would have been able to take it out of Alonzo’s pocket in most jurisdictions.
The main point is that unless they chose to just give up on it, the money was going to be coming to GaymerX, one way or another. Now, when someone has wronged you, the first step to take by almost every social or professional standard is to notify them about it and give them the chance to make it right. That’s both a practical matter, as it removes a barrier to moving through the litigation process in the future, and an ethical one, because that’s really just how you treat people. So in this case, it’d be following up with Alonzo, Alonzo’s supervisor, NIS’s accounts payable department, or anything like that. Going public with your dirty laundry, on the other hand, is usually a measure of last resort. It’s the equivalent of putting up a fist and starting a fight; sometimes it’s necessary, sometimes it’s the only way to get results, but it’s damaging and only assholes and manchildren use that as a first resort. I’ll let you make your own judgement as to which one Conn is.
So upon getting notification, Conn didn’t take any steps to rectify the situation. Rather, he just tried to hurt NIS. Conn responded like a jilted teenager with a Tumblr account, just trying to draw as much attention as he could without even trying to make things right. Conn immediately tried to spread the e-mail among some journalists, who I believe were personal friends of his, trying to use his network to do what damage he could. This wasn’t about putting pressure on the company, nor was it about seeking justice. The way he went about this, immediately jumping to airing dirty laundry without making an attempt to resolve anything, was pure malice. Like that mean kid back in class who started a fight whenever someone spilled his milk, Conn had been infringed upon, and immediately lashed out to inflict as much pain as possible before cooler heads caught him.
This is wildly unprofessional, but still a bit understandable given the situation. But then Conn just kept digging the hole. He followed that up with interviews and tweets such as the type above. Again, this is just him lashing out trying to damage NIS, but making the homophobia implication where there are no indications sexuality is a factor? That’s really low. Now, there are times when people and organizations truly are discriminated against for their sexuality, and those definitely need to be called out. But homophobia is an absolutely despicable declaration and using it when it’s unwarranted reduces the voice of the whole community to do so when it is. Moreover, it’s very hurtful and damaging, especially for a company that’s been pursuing sponsoring an LGBTQ event. Conn is much more a bully here than those he’s claiming to fight. These tweets demonstrate a bit of true character, that of a hateful, self-centered child.
Obviously, the above is incredibly unprofessional, and probably harmful to GaymerX as a whole. I know that if I had been in an organization considering sponsoring his event, this would definitely ward me away. If this is how they react to a single, if ill-advised, e-mail, there’s a huge risk in just getting involved in the first place. What would happen if you sponsored them one year, but chose not to do so again when they may be counting on your donation? What if corporate processes lead to a delay in payment? What if there’s a miscommunication, and they’re expecting something different than was promised? It’s way too risky a situation.
So yeah, there were idiots at fault on both sides. NIS started the issue with stupidity through incompetence, Conn continued it with stupidity through wrath and immaturity. Neither came out looking good on the issue. Things seem settled now, NIS paying what they owe, everyone making public apologies. I’d bet nobody’s happy, but at least I’m not going to have to hear about it anymore after I publish this post.
One last thing I just can’t let go, though. Conn claimed in his apology that his statements were taken out of context, and that he never intended the dialog to be that NIS was discriminating against an LGBTQ organization. Please see his tweets above for the statements in context, implying that NIS is discriminating against ‘queer geeks’, and Conn being a rat liar.
It’s difficult when things like this occur, and it’s part of the problem with social media. Things can get out of hand far too quickly!
I wouldn’t count on sponsorship money until a contract has been signed. Who cares if an employee thinks it’s a good deal if they don’t have the authority themselves to pay the cash. The only bully I see is Matt Conn trying to pressure NIS to pay by spinning the issue into being a case of sexual injustice.