• Dusty Weis

Lead Balloon Ep. 27 - Sherwin-Williams Paints Itself Into a Corner on TikTok, with Tony Piloseno

Updated: Mar 24


A Plucky TikTok Superstar Gets Fired for Finding Unexpected Brand Success on Social Media


Tony Piloseno really likes paint.


And as a junior studying marketing at Ohio University, he channeled his passion for a part-time job at a Sherwin-Williams paint store into a wildly successful TikTok channel.

His weirdly entertaining videos of mixing paint colors amassed hundreds of thousands of social media followers and tens of millions of views.


Inspired by his meteoric success, Tony pitched the concept of a branded TikTok channel to Sherwin-Williams marketing brass, hoping the company would recognize a ripe opportunity to build brand awareness and loyalty with a new generation of future homeowners.


Instead, the company fired him for "gross misconduct." But it would turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to the ascendant entrepreneur, and a public relations disaster for Sherwin-Williams.


Check out Tonester Paints on TikTok and visit the Tonester Paints website to learn more.


Transcript:


Dusty Weis:

"Takes initiative." As an employee, those are two of the most coveted words that you can hope to see on a performance review, right? And so when 23 year old Tony Piloseno amassed hundreds of thousands of social media followers, and tens of millions of views with his TikTok videos of mixing paint, he thought that his employers at Sherwin-Williams might get excited about that, or at least appreciate the millions of dollars worth of free social media exposure that he generated for them.


Tony Piloseno:

Every Marketing person in the paint industry, that's their goal, right, is get people to think about paint. And that's what I did.


Dusty Weis:

Instead, Sherwin-Williams, not only failed to recognize the impact that the Ohio University marketing student had made for them, but the company ran him out of his part-time job at a Sherwin-Williams paint store.


Tony Piloseno:

Once they figured out I wasn't stealing or anything like that, then I get a call from the district manager saying that I was fired for gross misconduct.


Dusty Weis:

And yet disheartened and now unemployed, Tony Piloseno would emerge from this nightmare as an internet folk hero with more job offers than he could feasibly even respond to. And Sherwin-Williams would continue to compound the error, turning one bad decision into a public relations debacle. I'm Dusty Weis from Podcamp Media. This is Lead Balloon, a podcast about PR, marketing, and branding disasters and the well-meaning communications professionals who lived them. Thank you for joining us. We are back for another season with monthly tales of the most intense PR and marketing war stories that we can get people to share with us. So make sure you're following us in your favorite podcast app and check out Podcamp Media on your favorite social platform. Given the subject matter of today's episode, I'm even giving serious consideration to launching a TikTok channel depending on whether today's guest talks me out of that or not.


Dusty Weis:

So joining us now is Tony Piloseno, the founder of Tonester Paints in the Orlando, Florida area. His TikTok channel by the same name has nearly 2 million followers and has massed about 50 million likes on the platform. The story of his creative vision in the summary dismissal that he suffered from the shortsighted suits at Sherwin-Williams is one that I think that we could all stand to hear in the marketing and strategic communications fields. So Tony, thank you for joining us on Lead Balloon.


Tony Piloseno:

Dusty, thank you for having me. I'm super excited to talk to you about it.


Dusty Weis:

Tony, one of the important things about being a podcast host is you've got to understand your own blind spots and acknowledgement. So in the interest of full disclosure, this is me coming right off the bat here and saying, I don't have a TikTok. Now a lot of people as they move, move into middle age, as I apparently am, have a tendency to look at new technology and be like, "Yeah, I don't need to learn how to do that." And I think that your story here is a great reminder that sometimes there are great opportunities to be harnessed in spaces that might be outside your comfort zone, or maybe I'm wrong and old people like me don't belong on TikTok at all. I don't know. I'm not the expert you are. So what first drew you to TikTok? What do you like about the platform as a user?


Tony Piloseno:

TikTok, when it first came out in 2019, there were TikTok videos being posted on to Twitter, Instagram, all that stuff. So I downloaded the app and almost from the beginning, right, it's crazy how the algorithm of that platform works, where they can specifically figure out what you're interested in. I don't even still to this day know how they do it, but I think the whole idea of the quick short form content was super addictive, super interesting, super cool. And the cool thing about TikTok too was that anyone had their chance to have their videos seen by the entire world, right? I mean, it didn't matter how many followers you had, what your content was, if the algorithm liked it and people were watching your videos, it would reach a substantial amount of people. At first, it was just a lot of people dancing, but then it slowly integrated into hobbies, crafts, just people doing their jobs just like in my case, which I thought was really cool. And I guess that's why I always found that app specifically interesting.


Dusty Weis:

And certainly your story is a prime example hereof. You can start out with something that's seemingly innocuous like mixing paint and in internet celebrity. But it was late 2019 when your particular adventure in this space started, what all did you have going on in a typical week? And how did you start creating videos then for TikTok?


Tony Piloseno:

At that time, I was actually junior studying marketing at Ohio University. Working at Sherwin-Williams, the local paint store, that had been about my third year with the company. So the day to day go to school, go to work, right, just like any other typical college student. But in my case, after working at Sherwin-Williams for a few years, and now I was at a point in my college career where I needed to start looking for career options after school, I was beyond lucky to have started out at Sherwin-Williams and found something that I actually wanted to do, right. I wanted to go into their management training program, move throughout that company. I just found it to be such an interesting job.


Dusty Weis:

You see, in spite of the old adage about watching paint dry, for Tony Piloseno, there was nothing dry about the process of mixing that paint. Contrary to what you might think, paint stores don't keep a stockpile of every red, blue, and yellow swatch that's in their book. Rather, all those paint cans at the store are full of neutral base paint to which are added different combinations of pigment that can turn it into any color on the wheel.


Tony Piloseno:

White, gold, green, black. The gold and the green are going to make a sage color. The black's going to darken it up and white's just filling in the rest of the can basically. So let's see what we got. Hold on.


Dusty Weis:

So the first videos that Tony put on his TikTok channel were just of him mixing orders for customers at the Sherwin William store where he worked.


Tony Piloseno:

There's a super cool process. There's only about 12 pigments that create an entire universe of color, right? Any color that you whatever need. I think it just grabbed people's attention. My six video on TikTok got about a million views. And it was just from that process of making a gown of paint, showing people how it works, how the pigments work together. And I think that resonated with people. It was just something that they didn't know. At that time was more like an educational standpoint. And I think that's why people really enjoyed it.


Dusty Weis:

Now I know what you're thinking, Really videos of paint? And this is certainly where some of the baby boomers out there might climb up onto the high horse with a hotty. Can you believe these Gen Z kids are watching videos of paint being mixed on their smartphones? I got some paint for them to mix right here. And while that rings a little hollow from the generation that spent hours staring at lava lamps in its free time, there is something visually enticing and even relaxing about Tony's videos. But the proof is in the numbers, of course, and in just a matter of weeks Tony's subscriber count and views ballooned in a way that most social media managers can only dream of. For his part, Tony did what he could to build on that success though he hadn't yet fight any real objective for his social media activity.


Tony Piloseno:

As we all know in the social media world, you got to keep up with coming up with new ideas, different trends, that sort of thing, where else the content becomes stale, right? I mean, people don't want to see the same thing over and over again. So I kept making the paint videos, just customer orders. And then I started doing more research about TikTok and this was mid pandemic now where TikTok had just completely blown up, where people were downloading it like crazy. The app was growing very, very quickly. So I was doing my research about it, what people were saying, coming up with new ideas, be consistent with your content and keep posting because that's what the algorithm liked. Coming up with original content was the whole key to it.


Tony Piloseno:

So me being a paint and color fanatic, I started then doing research on, for example, how paint was made throughout history, right. What they used to do was use natural pigments, such as berries, roots, onions, just natural things that had color to it. And that's how you created paint colors. So that just got my creative juices flowing. And for example, the video where I added blueberries, the paint, showing how people used to make paint in the past and how these natural items around us have these pigments in it and can create color on its own.


Dusty Weis:

I think what I admire the most about your story is the entrepreneurial spirit that you demonstrated at every step of the way, in addition to that creativity. And so as the channel kept growing and you kept getting followers, what was it that made you recognize that this was maybe something that the management at Sherwin-Williams could possibly be interested in?


Tony Piloseno:

I remember I was at home visiting my parents in Cleveland while I was still in school, and had a long drive back to Athens. And I distinctly remember the light bulb going off in my head just being a marketing student this has some value to it. I mean, if there's millions of people watching your content, I mean, there's got to be some value that can be incorporated into this, whether that's a brand awareness, marketing purposes, educational purposes. I just thought there was some value here that's untapped. And essentially the whole idea of the presentation was developing brand awareness for Sherwin-Williams through content that a younger generation is clearly enjoying and engaged with.


Dusty Weis:

How many followers did you have at that point?


Tony Piloseno:

At that point with that presentation, I think it was only even like 500,000.


Dusty Weis:

Only 500,000. That's all.


Tony Piloseno:

But it was just so crazy. I mean, obviously TikTok is an app where it's younger users. I believe the age range is 14 to 24. And these are people that I thought, going back to my experience being in the paint store and being interested in the industry, that everyone will have to purchase, pick out paint colors, be involved with paint at some point in their lifetime, whether that's DIY projects, painting their homes. And it's not something that the younger generations typically thought about or knew anything about paint companies. So I thought it'd be beneficial to have that early adoption of Sherwin-Williams being in front of people who will buy paint in the future.


Dusty Weis:

Oh yeah. Today's punk kids are tomorrow's homeowners. And particularly when you're a legacy brand like Sherwin-Williams that's been around for generations, there's value in investing in tomorrow's potential customers, I would think.


Tony Piloseno:

Exactly. That was the whole idea behind it, the whole idea behind the pitch deck that I put together for Sherwin-Williams.


Dusty Weis:

Demonstrating again that untiring entrepreneurial spirit of his, Tony documented his successes on the TikTok platform and crafted a pitch for the marketing brass at Sherwin-Williams. The headquarters of which was just three hours away in Cleveland. He wanted the company to empower him to build on his early success in an officially sanctioned, branded strategic awareness in loyalty building campaign. Tony even shared that pitch deck with a number of his Ohio University business professors.


Lori Marchese:

When he first approached and I watched the videos, they're creative, and there's also this calming effect of watching the paint mix and the colors. So I think he had an interesting combination that resonated with people.


Dusty Weis:

An associate professor who describes Tony as a joy in the classroom, Lori Marchese says she was excited for Tony's success. But having worked in the business world herself, she knew that success on a trendy social media platform and some youthful exuberance might not be enough to impress a gruff marketing executive.


Lori Marchese:

It was a little bit challenging for me because the majority of the feedback he was getting was like, "What an accomplishment to have that many viewers," and implied that he was negotiating from a position of strength. And as his professor, I had to be really careful to not do anything that would squash this enthusiasm. But at the same time, my viewpoint was a little bit more pragmatic and we talked about some of the risks. We talked about the risk of from a marketing perspective, it's a large company. They spend time, money, research on their brand, their name, their colors, their marketing message. So when I'd ask, "Are your videos in alignment with that marketing message," that was a difficult question.


Dusty Weis:

And I can safely say I was 22 years old once. Actually, if I sit here and I do the math-


Lori Marchese:

Plus last year?


Dusty Weis:

... Yeah. Actually, it surprises me how long ago that was, but I still remember what it felt like to be 22 years old and to have all of these, in my head, great ideas. And then to take these ideas out and pitch them to someone who's professional, someone who's been in X, Y, Z field for 20 years and to have them go, oh, another kid. And so was Tony surprised at all with the feedback that you gave him, this, Hey, have you stopped and considered this from Sherwin-Williams perspective yet?


Lori Marchese:

I wouldn't say surprised. I think part of the reason he came to me as one of his professors was that I would give an honest opinion, good, positive or negative to provide him with guidance, but definitely didn't consider all those factors.


Dusty Weis:

From your expectations then, when you looked at this young motivated person who had put together a pretty good pitch and really accomplished some things, you tempered his expectations and filled in some blind spots that he had, but then he went out and he pitched this idea to Sherwin-Williams. What were your expectations for what he was going to hear back from them?


Lori Marchese:

That's the part that probably surprised me.


Dusty Weis:

Feedback incorporated, pitch refined, Tony turned to the next step in his master plan, finding an in at Sherwin-Williams corporate. And he started with his manager at the paint store where he worked.


Tony Piloseno:

He's a good friend of mine, very supportive. He totally got what I was saying. And he was actually the one who pushed me forward and got me the contact information for the director of marketing at Sherwin, gave me his phone, email, LinkedIn, all that stuff. I believe this was around March or April of 2020. And then I just didn't hear back from him. I had sent quite a few emails, just pushing it forward, phone calls, LinkedIn messages. And until about June of 2020, he reached back me on LinkedIn. And this was obviously prime pandemic time. He just said that due to all the circumstances happening for the company and around the world, they weren't putting any extra efforts into marketing strategies or anything going outside the box from what they were already doing.


Dusty Weis:

Thanks to the grounded advice from Lori Marchese, the flat response wasn't wholly unexpected for Tony. Says he was a little disappointed, but ultimately believed that he'd have other opportunities to make his case. But then something happened that blindsided him completely.


Tony Piloseno:

About a month after that LinkedIn message from the marketing department, I get a call from loss prevention and then I just started getting hammered with accusations and questions, right? I guess they started doing research on the videos. Someone had complained about the specific video with the blueberries in the paint.


Dusty Weis:

Who? Who complains about that? Who calls frickin' Sherwin-Williams and says, I don't like that this guy is putting blueberries in your paint.


Tony Piloseno:

No one really knows how that played out, if they just said that or what happened, right. But I got a call from the loss prevention director and then that's when they start their investigation on the Tonester Paints TikTok channel.


Dusty Weis:

What did their investigation find?


Tony Piloseno:

Well, at first we had to do inventory. They wanted to make sure that I wasn't stealing paint products, right. And I clearly explained to them, "Hey, this is customer orders or for the more creative videos that I was taking upon myself." I was actually purchasing the paint from Sherwin-Williams to make those videos. So once they figured out I wasn't stealing or anything like that, the inventory was straight, then I get a call from the district manager saying that I was fired for gross misconduct.


Dusty Weis:

Gross misconduct.


Tony Piloseno:

Gross misconduct, meaning doing things on the clock that you're not supposed to be doing.


Dusty Weis:

And just like that after generating millions of dollars worth of free social media buzz on behalf of Sherwin-Williams, Tony Piloseno was unemployed. His dreams of climbing the corporate ladder at the company that he worked for and sharing his passion for color with the world cratered. Though he didn't realize it yet that termination notice would wind up being the best thing to ever happen to him. And the most embarrassing PR [inaudible 00:17:19] that Sherwin-Williams has committed in years.


Tony Piloseno:

That video was nuts.


Dusty Weis:

The story of Tony's stunning reversal of fortunes coming up in just a minute here on Lead Balloon. This is Lead Balloon and I'm Dusty Weis. Tony Piloseno had just finished his junior year as a marketing student at Ohio University. And he leveraged a part-time job, mixing paint into an enthusiastic following of more than half a million TikTok users on social media. But his attempt to legitimize his TikTok channel with Sherwin-Williams marketing brass had backfired big time. Instead of an invitation to bring his creativity and his audience to bear on behalf of the company, instead of even a patronizing pat on the head, he got his pink slip. And as far as he could tell, all his hopes for revolutionizing the paint industry to make it exciting again for a new generation of consumers were brushed out of existence in that one stroke.


Tony Piloseno:

It was my career. It was something that I was fully invested in and ready to you grow within that company. I mean, I genuinely enjoyed working for Sherwin-Williams and what the job entailed. So that was the part that sucked the most about it.


Dusty Weis:

Did you ever think about just quitting your TikTok channel? Did you look at it and say, Man, this thing got me in a lot of trouble. I better walk away from this.


Tony Piloseno:

Absolutely not. At that point I was like, "If people are engaging and enjoying this content, I can't let them down if anything." People wanted to see the content and I enjoyed making it. So I think from that angle, I enjoyed going to work and I enjoyed making the content. If I would've got fired and stopped making the content, that would've been two things that I would've just had to let go.


Dusty Weis:

Regardless, you huge setback, you lost your access to a lot of the equipment that you had to make your videos, the professional paint mixing stuff and all that. So how did you keep your content coming over the months that followed?


Tony Piloseno:

So first step, find paint. I didn't have access to customer orders. At that point, I was actually banned from going in Sherwin-Williams too.


Dusty Weis:

Wait. Is that still in effect? Do you have a lifetime ban at Sherwin-Williams?


Tony Piloseno:

It's not still in effect.


Dusty Weis:

And so banished from the world's largest paint producer, Tony did what good content creators do and he put his audience first. Now on an unemployed college student's budget, he kept creating though necessity forced him to pivot his TikTok strategy to a more underground gorilla style.


Tony Piloseno:

I was driving around all over Southeast Ohio and West Virginia, going to local home depots, lows, and going to their mistints pile. A mistint is when a paint store accidentally tints a wrong color, wrong product, and it can't be sold to the customer. You want cheap paint for like five bucks a gallon and you're not too picky on it, go to the mistint pile. Every paint has got mistints paint. It's just paint that can't be sold to that customer.


Tony Piloseno:

So that's the paint that I was buying, going to those home depots, buying all the cheap paint that I could, went to a couple habitat for humanities. I would also gather pigments too and get little jars of those. That was step number one, was gathering supplies for the video. But the leftover money I had after getting fired, I mean, I was on a budget now too. I bought like a $90 little light box from Amazon just to have a little good lighting, good little area to shoot. And then I used my friend's basement in Athens because they had a house. I was in an apartment. So I set up a little studio in their very small unfinished basement where I could get things messy and continue creating the content.


Cal Parnell:

We had a basement and we didn't use it for anything.


Dusty Weis:

Cal Parnell has known Tony since they were high school students together. They both chose to go to school at Ohio University. And so Cal says that when he heard about Tony's plight, he was ready to do whatever he needed to do to help a friend in need.


Cal Parnell:

I guess it's just something you do, especially when you lose a guy like that. And he's especially from, like I said, he loved working on store. So when your friend's going through something like that, you kind of... That's what friends are for.


Dusty Weis:

And as an engineering student himself, Cal says he had to admire the technical creativity that Tony brought to the video creation process.


Cal Parnell:

But I remember when he first made those videos, he didn't have a tripod or anything. What was really cool, I thought was he got this crescent wrench and he tightened it. He had a magnetic thing on his phone and he would take the wrench, stick it to the phone and then he'd clamp it with the crescent wrench to keep the phone steady.


Dusty Weis:

And as good buddies do, Cal even volunteered for a few of the road trips that became instrumental in Tony's continued brand building.


Cal Parnell:

Someone messaged him on, I think it was Instagram, saying, "Hey, we have al these spare paint cans. We're selling them for $1 a gallon," which $1 a gallon paint, that's that's pretty good. I have a truck. So we drove all the way up there to get all these paint cans.


Dusty Weis:

Through it all, Cal says that Tony stayed grounded and determined. He didn't let his growing follower count get to his head and he stayed focused on the mission at hand.


Cal Parnell:

I'm really proud of him. I think that it's really cool what he's managed to do with that TikTok and YouTube and Instagram following, and turned that into something beneficial for him. It's cool to say he's my friend.


Dusty Weis:

And for his part, Tony says that he will always be grateful to Cal and his roommates for supporting him during the most difficult stretch of his career.


Tony Piloseno:

If it wasn't for that basement that Cal and Nick and Reese had let me use, I genuinely have no idea where I would have been allowed to make content.


Dusty Weis:

But even with his buddy's support and an audience approaching a million followers, Tony's professional prospects still looked bleak. And so after months of making videos without any illusion to his dismissal by Sherwin-Williams, he did a little bit of soul searching and decided to broach the topic directly in a video to his followers.


Tony Piloseno:

This is how I got fired at my job as a paint mixer. Last year, I started making paint videos at the store, showing everyone how satisfying paint mixing can be. And I really enjoyed doing it. I noticed the videos were doing well and people seemed to be joining them on TikTok. I developed a business presentation to show the marketing department how TikTok can be beneficial to the company's brand. The VP of marketing then told me he didn't even want to see my presentation I had made for him. A few months later, I was fired for gross misconduct because people were calling customer service and asking if they could put blueberries inside of paint. I was pretty bummed out at first, but with the support of my friends and family, I continued to do what I love. My friends were even nice enough to let me use their basement as a studio to continue filming my videos.


Dusty Weis:

And the response to Tony's video confessional, instant virality. Within hours, it was his most widely viewed piece of content playing on tens of millions of devices. Nearly eight million likes, tens of thousands of supportive comments. His follow account shot up to almost a million and a half and coverage on his local news stations eventually fueled reports in Ad Age, BuzzFeed and even NPR.


Tony Piloseno:

That video was nuts.


Dusty Weis:

Well, and I'll say this too, the maturity with which you handled it, I think played very heavily in your favor. A lot of people in the social media world, they would burn that bridge to the ground, come out, drop some F bombs, villainize the big corporations. It's really easy to dunk on Sherwin-Williams, and a lot of people have in this story, but you didn't in that moment. Why not?


Tony Piloseno:

No. In my case, I still try not to. I mean, when I made that video about myself getting fired, the video wasn't about Sherwin-Williams. It was about me and my passion and my content. And to this day, I still thank Sherwin-Williams for helping me find something that I genuinely wanted to do. Giving me my experiences, my knowledge, giving me my passion. That's what Sherwin-Williams did for me. So I didn't want to make that video, big corporations are evil. Corporations make mistakes, but I wanted people to also know that they helped me to where I am in the social media verse too.


Dusty Weis:

Right. So you put it all out there, you put your heart on your sleeve, told that story. What was the reaction to that video?


Tony Piloseno:

I think it really resonated with a lot of people in a sense that I had a passion for something that I wanted to do. And that was the most special part about it. Just the drive to keep doing what you wanted to do. And it was motivational in a sense. There's a lot of road blocks in life and I just kept doing what I love to do. And I think that really resonated with a lot of people who watched that video.


Dusty Weis:

Well, and it certainly worked out well for you too. I mean, the story got national attention. I heard about you on NPR, I think originally. You became an internet folk hero and your inbox started blowing up. How many job offers did you get and from whom?


Tony Piloseno:

Basically all of the national paint brands in the United States.


Dusty Weis:

But while the viral TikTok video was going gang busters for Tony, Sherwin-Williams was getting hammered in the trade press and on the internet. PR Daley published an article titled Three Mistakes Sherwin-Williams Made in Firing TikTok Star, Tony Piloseno. In Ad Age, Walker Sands, senior VP, Andrew Cross noted, "They sent a signal as loud as it was unintentional that employees who do what they're told are more valuable than employees who think outside the box. They've unintentionally stifled employee ingenuity." And Twitter user Tara Ratta Savage echoing the sentiments of many and tweeting from the peak of the pandemic noted, "Dumb move, Sherwin-Williams. We're all stuck at home right now staring at TikTok in our old paint, fire the marketing person that passed on this." Even Tony's business professor Lori Marchese says she was baffled by how poorly Sherwin-Williams handled their response to Tony's TikTok channel.


Lori Marchese:

I would've expected that they would've leveraged what he had accomplished, giving him a position on the marketing team to balance consistency with the marketing message and work with him to figure it out. They have a lawyer on staff to answer some of these questions. So my expectation was that it would not have been an insurmountable challenge to figure out a win-win. To be the fly on the wall and understand why they decided what they did. I will be very curious if you find that out as opposed to a no comment kind of response be because that would be really interesting.


Dusty Weis:

As a former journalist, I am obligated to point out that I have reached out to Sherwin-Williams for comment. And so far, they have not just declined to comment. They have completely ghosted, not even responding to my email, which tells me that I think they realize that their nose got swatted on this one and they're burying their head. Of course, those of us who've worked in PR know what a no comment means from a company like Sherwin-Williams. They realized that they've lost in the court of public opinion, that their actions, whether in keeping with company policy or not are indefensible. And so if their public relations team is competent, and I expect that they are, the smart play here is to issue a mea culpa.


Dusty Weis:

"Upon further review, Tony Piloseno didn't really do anything all that wrong. It was a shortsighted half [inaudible 00:29:17] decision to fire a man. We probably shouldn't have done that. But we're glad that it worked out for him in the end. And we thank him for the passion and creativity that he brought to his job." Easy, one paragraph, about 50 words or so. Apply egg to face and you're absolved forever. Instead, they doubled down on their stance early in the media cycle, and now they've stopped responding to the story altogether. And that tells me that this is, and always was a leadership failure at Sherwin-Williams. That the leadership team stubbornly ignored the best PR advice that they may have received, that they couldn't be bothered by the opinions of the unwashed masses because we're Sherwin-Williams. And what do you idiots know about paint? And in that failure of leadership, Tony Piloseno demonstrates why Sherwin-Williams is dangerously close to losing its iron grip on market share and going the way of NOKIA, Blockbuster and all the other shortsighted corporate dinosaurs of the last century.


Tony Piloseno:

Because in that video I explained what my end goal was. And that was getting people to talk and think and understand paint. And that's what every marketing person in the paint industry, that's their goal, right? Is get people to think about paint. And that's what I did. So there were a lot of offers, a lot of people reaching out to me, a lot of media coverage. It was very overwhelming at first.


Dusty Weis:

It's pretty remarkable that you went from unemployed, mixing paint in your buddy's basement to, you've got your pick of the litter and you can go work wherever the heck you want. What opportunity did you wind up picking? And why did you make that decision?


Tony Piloseno:

Receiving a bunch of job offers from a lot of people, it was cool to feel wanted. People saw my vision now, what I was trying to do. But I kind of had a bad taste in my mouth working for a big corporate environment, right? If something happens, you're getting dumped, no questions asked. It was just something that left a bad taste in my mouth. But I received a LinkedIn message from Don Strube, who's the owner of Florida Paints. He reached out to me, he said he loved the story. He wanted to bring me down to Orlando, Florida to check out Florida Paints, which is a paint manufacturer here in Orlando, family based company, small to midsize company too. And he really told me about his passion for painting color too, which is something that I really resonated with. So him and I got to talk and I came out and checked out their facilities.


Tony Piloseno:

And one thing that he specifically told me was that he will help me start Tonester Paints into its own line of paint and color, right. And I was like, "Well, that's the perfect opportunity to do so." Have my own paint manufacture and have the chance to have a startup company, take my vision and my goal for paint and actually put it into my own brand. I mean, it was perfect. All the other offers were great too, but in a sense, those were just marketing other people's paint. I had a chance to do it for myself and for my own paint brand. And that's why I ultimately came down here to Florida to have them be my paint manufacturer.


Dusty Weis:

So Tony stuck around Ohio long enough to finish up his degree and then jetted off to start a new life, partnered with Florida Paints, managing his own brand as an entrepreneur. And to his old college instructor, Lori Marchese, his tale presents an instructive opportunity to which she can direct her current students about navigating the corporate world as an up and coming creative.


Lori Marchese:

The best lesson is an admiration for Tony's resilience. He got knocked down and knocked down hard and he really didn't let that stop them. He truly had a passion for what he was doing and he got in a good position to take advantage of it. And that's a real success story. It's a happy ending. It may not have been exactly what he had in mind, but it is definitely a happy ending that he is, as his own paint company, doing what he wants.


Dusty Weis:

I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I feel safe in saying it sounds to me like you're pretty proud of your former student.


Lori Marchese:

I would've been proud regardless of his success, but that ability to come back against adversity makes you right, makes you even more proud.


Dusty Weis:

And from where Tony sits now, behind that desk placard that says "Founder," he is more than happy to discuss the lessons that he learned about content marketing and social media. I've worked in the corporate machine back in the day and in a lot of ways I still do. And so I've watched people who have never personally used social media, try to put together, elaborate social media campaign strategies. So I know that there is a lot wrong with how the corporate world approaches creative enterprises. In fact, if I can get up on my soapbox for a second, the word content itself, as a means of describing stories and videos and blogs and written words and anything else, content as a term drives me nuts. Because it sounds like something that shows up on the back of a flatbed truck and gets unloaded with forklifts. Content is not a commodity. It's the painstaking result of creative freedom that's skillfully wielded by creative people. And so I guess if there's a takeaway lesson from your story here about authenticity and social media strategy about making content that really resonates with people, what would that be?


Tony Piloseno:

What I've learned, the key to creating successful content that will reach people organically on social media is like you said, that authenticity factor. A big issue that companies have, that are trying to get into the social media game, creating videos, content, stuff like that, is they're trying to sell too much. It's like they're trying to sell to people. Then at that point, you're just creating an ad. And who likes watching ads when you're on social media, TikTok, YouTube, whatever? No one likes watching ads. People don't want to feel like they're being sold to on something, right? But like you said, you have to give a person or a group of people a complete 100% control to create organic content. I mean, it can't be stuff...


Tony Piloseno:

I feel like a big issue in companies and corporations is that when you create content for the company, oh, it's got to be filtered through this amount of many people to get checked, do all this stuff, make sure it's approved. But that slowly, slowly deteriorates the authenticity of it. And that makes it content people don't want to watch, read, or listen to. The best content that you see, whether it be on blogs, videos, posts, I mean, it's just completely unfiltered. It comes right from the soul. I mean, it's soulful content. Stuff people can relate to and complete emphasis on creativity, right? Creativity and art. It's an art form essentially, right? Would you agree?


Dusty Weis:

I tend to agree with that. And I think that one of the worst things that you can do to a content creator is put a spreadsheet in front of them and say, tell me what piece of content you will be creating every week for the next 52 weeks. Because that's not how it works.


Tony Piloseno:

No. My content strategy is when I come up with an idea, write it down on my phone, to my notes and then just go ahead and make it. My video editing skills have substantially increased just from having that practice and trying different things out. But the whole idea of the content is not stuff that can just be completely planned out, like you said, put on a spreadsheet. At least that's not how I do it. I don't know many people in the content world that do it. It's just completely organic right from the heart, right from the mind. And I think that's the content that performs the best.


Dusty Weis:

You hinted there for a second at your creative process, how ideas will occur to you and you'll jot them down and execute them later. Is that just the extent of the process of very long notes app on your phone? And how do you come up with fresh ideas? I mean, you've been making videos about paint now for more than two years. Do you think that you're scraping the bottom of the barrel or is there still uncharted territory out there for you yet to explore?


Tony Piloseno:

Now the cool part about my niche is the color aspect of it, right? There is an endless, I don't want to say it's a blessing or a curse, but it's a constant thought in my mind of looking at colors, thinking about colors, looking at paint and looking at buildings. I'm constantly thinking about it. But the cool part about color and paint, it's involved in everything. Every brand has its own colors. Buildings have its own colors. Color has incorporated into everything around us. And I think that leaves me a good avenue to where I can consistently keep thinking about it. And when I get new ideas, they come a lot easier and a lot more frequently than most people would in other niches. You know what I mean?


Dusty Weis:

Yeah, for sure. Well, Tony, I've got a few home design projects in the works myself. So how do I learn more about what you do and how do I order some Tonester Paints online?


Tony Piloseno:

So I have a website built up now, tonesterpaints.com. Super easy process, right? It's interior paint products along with co color samples. What people do is they go to the website, they either choose a flat sheen or a satin. And I made a color palette of distinctly under 50 colors. Right? So one another issue that I've realized from a consumer perspective when buying paint products, especially choosing paint colors is there's thousands of different colors. I've done many color consultations and helped people with their projects. They'll bring me in, gray is a popular color, right? So for example, if someone wants a cool tone gray, I'll go to someone's house, take up on their wall, is like 50 different cool tone grays that are essentially all the same color, right?


Tony Piloseno:

But the whole idea behind it is that you go on Tonester Paints' website, you're not overwhelmed with all those options. You can just order a cool tone gray without having 100 different ones around it to choose from and almost making a customer feel like they're making the wrong decision when they purchase a color. They're overwhelmed with so many options. They don't know which ones to pick. So when they do choose, they subconsciously think that they're making the wrong choice or they're nervous about it. So I'm just trying to simplify that process for the paint consumer by having a limited pallet, go on the website, choose the color you want. And it could just be shipped right to your door. Easy as that.


Dusty Weis:

Tony, you are speaking to my heart right now, man, because let me tell you my wife and I, we bought our house about five years ago. And I remember we painted every room in that house. When it came to who was going to pick the colors, it was definitely her, but it was not something that she wanted to do alone. And so she would bring me these piles and piles of color swatches, and be like, "Which gray defines us as people?" And I'd look at her and I'd say, "Sweetie, when I was in elementary school, I was a 12 crayon kid. My box of crayons was this big. And so this is not my expertise. I trust you explicitly?"


Dusty Weis:

Well, no, that's what I should have said because what I really said was, "I don't care." And that's something that you never say to your wife about painting the house. You never say I don't care. That was the wrong answer. So we did get through it eventually. But like I said, we've got a few more projects coming up here, maybe in the next year. And so I will be checking out that website and I may pull you in for a consultation, if I may.


Tony Piloseno:

You let me know. One thing that I can also say that I've learned while working in paint for like all this time now, the hardest part about painting is choosing the paint color. I swear to God.


Dusty Weis:

Talking to Tony, hearing his passion for color, his humility, the complete lack of any animosity for the company that fired him, it leaves me even more baffled that Sherwin-Williams fell so thoroughly on its face by showing him out the door. If anything, they ought to be falling all over themselves, trying to recruit people with his perspective.


Tony Piloseno:

The thing that I just always want to keep emphasizing is it's almost sad, right, that the pain industry is so old school that there's not many people my age who have that interest or care about it or understand its importance. I think that goes back into the typical corporate structures, the work environment. It's not something people my age in the new generations are interested in, right? From people I've talked to in the industry like in 20 years, who's going to be running the paint industry? I mean, it's very, very old school.


Tony Piloseno:

So that's another goal that I have with Tonester Paints, is sparking that interest for the younger generations, the new workers coming into the field, that, Hey, this is a fun and creative environment to be in. It's very important. So I just want to emphasize to also the younger audiences on social media, why paint's important, why it can be fun and how you can be creative with it. I just don't want to see the paint industry starts to struggle with labor like it is already. I just want people to be interested in it and think about it a little more often, especially when choosing careers.


Dusty Weis:

Well, it's a great story you've got to tell. Again, I always love a story with a happy ending and yours is certainly still at its beginning. But I see nothing but success in the future for you. So Tony Piloseno, the creative David to the Sherwin-Williams, Goliath founder of Tonester Paints. Good luck to you and your new venture. We appreciate you sharing your story and your insights. And thanks for joining us on Lead Balloon.


Tony Piloseno:

Thank you Dusty. I appreciate it.


Dusty Weis:

That is going to do it for this episode of Lead Balloon. I'll put links to Tony Piloseno's Tonester Paints in the episode description. So make sure to check that out. Thanks as well to Lori Marchese and Cal Parnell for contributing their recollections of Tony's tail. I know I spend a fair amount of time venting my spleen on this show about things in PR and marketing that drive me nuts. Well, it's occurred to me that maybe it's time that I gave you would chance. So I've set up the Lead Balloon coms gripe line. It's quick and easy voice recording service, where you can leave me a message and get off your chest. Whatever pet peeve is wrinkling you about our world of PR and marketing, cliches you can't stand, get off your chest, obnoxious trends that need to crawl back into their holes. Click the gripe line link in the episode description and tell me about it like Stacey from Milwaukee did.


Stacey:

Calling something very unique, either it's unique or it's not. Or saying that something is priceless when it's something that you can sell at a certain price.


Dusty Weis:

Stacy, with an excellent use of the gripe line there highlighting a couple of horrendous uses of the English language. But this guy on the other hand.


Corey Kundert:

Hey, Dusty, it's Corey Kundert here. My biggest pet peeve related to communications is when people don't use the Oxford comma, it is necessary.


Dusty Weis:

I apologize. I don't normally allow vulgarity on this show, but in case there's any doubt, Corey, at Podcamp Media, the AP style guide is scripture and the Oxford comma is a heretical abomination. So if that's the gripe line folks, click the link in the episode description, leave me a gripe, I'll set a filter to delete any Oxford commas. Lead Balloon is produced by Podcamp Media, where we provide branded podcast production solutions for businesses. Our new podcast studios are located in the heart of beautiful downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but we work with brands all over North America. Check out our website, podcamomedia.com. Make sure you subscribe to this show in your favorite app. Larry Kilgore III with the nod for dialogue editing in this episode as usual. Great job, Larry. And till the next time, folks, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.



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