It’s one thing to have customers and clients, as they provide you with revenue, but it goes to a whole new level when one of your own employees goes above and beyond to bring your products and services the masses exceeding one million – on their own time. We should all be so lucky to have that level of Influencer on our payrolls.
I suppose Sherwin-Williams didn’t understand the kind of power these influencers can have over their buying public, but they felt strongly enough about the use of their products on TikTok was enough to let the opportunity go.
Tony Piloseno, a senior at Ohio University, was working part-time at his local Sherwin-Williams store when he started posting paint mixing videos to his TikTok channel (profile name tonesterpaints in case you wondered). The videos gained popularity very quickly, and Piloseno gained a whoppin’ 1.2 million followers.1
Yeah, oodles of free publicity – generated by one of their own. Who doesn’t wish for that kind of enthusiasm for their products?!
Sure, expense-free publicity, unless you count the paint and time that the college student was taking to create the videos, which Sherwin-Williams did.
And apparently, that cost was just too high for them.
When corporate personnel got wind of Piloseno’s channel, they started an internal investigation and finding that the part-timer was making these videos on during [his] working hours”, they, ahem, canned Piloseno. His termination documents also stated he had engaged in “gross misconduct,” such as “wasting properties [and] facilities,” and that his actions had embarrassed the company.
Curiously, Sherwin-Williams then told Buzzfeed Piloseno was fired due to a customer complaint about the videos after their story hit the media.
Speaking of which, the story did indeed hit other media:
In his own defense, Piloseno said he was already making the TikTok videos when he was mixing paints for customers but intended to purchase the paints himself when he saw how his channel’s popularity grew.
This is key: Piloseno also said that for months he’d been pointing to his viral account as an example of what Sherwin-Williams could do on social media and by marketing its brand to a younger audience.2
Now, that right there is EVERY reason Sherwin-Williams could have easily left well enough alone. Companies pay HUGE money to get the kind of exposure that just employee, through his own ingenuity, was generating to an audience (TikTok is a Gen Z platform) that they otherwise wouldn’t have been reaching. And that’s what makes the move short-sighted, unfortunately, a squandered opportunity for reach a new audience.
But like any business, Sherwin-Williams has competition, and they saw opportunity knocking.
It wasn’t long before Piloseno was getting offers from the likes of national paint companies, including Behr, Benjamin Moore, and PPG.3
So what did Sherwin-Williams end up gaining for their move? Bad publicity. The Buzzfeed article got all the wrong kind of attention for them – folks on social media leapt to Piloseno’s defense – and put the paint provider’s mistake into their own words:
“Firing the Sherwin Williams guy is like Ocean Spray sending the skateboard dude a cease and desist.”
“Sherwin-Williams found out it employed one of the few millennials who was truly passionate about their job and fired him for it.”
“Well, @Benjamin_Moore, here’s an opportunity.”4
Loss of audience reach, public criticism of your decision…maybe not Sherwin-Williams’ finest hour.
Despite the bevy of offers, the painting mixer decided in the end to go with a smaller brand, Florida, which operates 25 paint stores in Florida.
Among other perks, Piloseno will have his own lab to develop his own paints.
Because THAT’S how you make the most of that kind of enthusiasm – you encourage it! Cultivate it! You make their passion a part of your passion!
Florida Paints – you get it. For Sherwin-Williams…it was a squandered opportunity and a spate of bad press, but businesses as successful as they tend to learn their lessons fast – I doubt they’ll make the same blunder a second time – should a similar opportunity arise.
At JOTO PR Disruptors™, we utilize social media, press releases, and a bevy of other tools to build your reputation, gain you the third-party validation and those influencers – because not everyone is lucky enough to have one on staff. The rest of us will need expertise to earn them. Contact us for a complimentary Anti-PR™ evaluation!
Have you got an influencer among you now? Give us a call: 888-919-4034.
- Alaimo, Kara. “The five worst PR disasters of 2020.” Chicago Business, 31 December 2020, chicagobusiness.com/opinion/five-worst-pr-disasters-2020.
- Chen, Tanya. “A College Student Behind A Massively Popular Paint-Mixing TikTok Page Was Fired From Sherwin-Williams.” BuzzFeed News, 18 November 2020, buzzfeednews.com/article/tanyachen/college-student-behind-a-massively-popular-paint-mixing.
- Liffreing, Ilyse. “Fired Sherwin-Williams Paint Enthusiast and TikTok Star Joins Rival Firm to Develop New Paints.” AdAge, 24 November 2020, adage.com/article/digital/fired-sherwin-williams-paint-enthusiast-and-tiktok-star-joins-rival-firm-develop-new-paints/2296991.
- Schuman, Nicole. “Sherwin-Williams Paints Itself into a Social Media Crisis Corner.” PR News, 23 November 2020, prnewsonline.com/sherwin-williams-tik-tok-crisis/.