Sinclair Black, owner of the hugely successful television commercial production company, Coastal Media Services, is one of the most down-to-earth business owners I have had the pleasure of working with. His passion for life extends far beyond his well-crafted creative and technical flair, with a love of surfing, stand up paddling, photography and triathlons at the top of his list. Sinclair has mastered the perfect balance between family, lifestyle and running a very successful business. I had the opportunity to sit down with Sinclair and gain first hand an insight into the drive behind his success.
You’re from Palm Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. What was life like before you made the move to the Coffs Coast?
I spent a lot of time surfing and enjoying an active lifestyle on the Northern Beaches. Surf Life Saving was a big part of my life, and I competed in surfboat rowing with Palm Beach Surf Club, which is where I met my wife, Hadley. I also had my own production company and was a freelance cameraman specialising in water cinematography for TV programs such as Uncle Toby’s Super Series and Forster Ironman. So life was busy, but good!
Your love of surfing has led you to experience it far beyond the wave. Tell us a little bit about this?
In 1998, I was introduced to surf filmmaker Jack McCoy, and we started screening old surf films on a huge outdoor screen to raise money for our local surf club. The response was amazing, and it gave us the idea of making a new film together and screening it in cinemas around Australia. Together, we showcased and produced the films: TO’ Day of Days, Blue Horizon and Free as a Dog, and for six years we toured the world screening the films in cinemas with the Billabong Jack McCoy Surf Film Festival. Filming took me to some exotic surfing locations in Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Tahiti, Indonesia, and Chile. I was also lucky enough to work with some of the world’s best surfers.
You run a very successful business – Coastal Media Services. How did you discover such a niche in the market?
Soon after arriving here, I bought a small real estate photography franchise called Open 2 View. I was also still doing some freelance camera work in Sydney and Queensland, when Pete Timothy from Prime heard of my experience behind the camera and offered me some work as a production cameraman for their TV commercials. After a short time working with Prime, I realised that clients were calling out for good quality production and started to produce TV ads from my garage, and I guess the rest is history!
We now have an office with green screen studio at the Jetty, employ four staff and have a pool of freelancers we draw from for the big jobs. Half our work is from local clients, and the other half is from agencies and corporates in Sydney and Brisbane, which we’re happy to bring back into Coffs.
What inspires you about the advertising world, and how has it changed over the past few decades?
I have always loved images and music and the emotion the both can create together. Advertising can be so powerful in creating a connection with the audience in some way. This principle hasn’t changed over the years; we still try and make that connection. What has changed is the technology and processes involved in producing the ads. Consumers have so much choice these days; it’s important to be constantly thinking of new ways of doing things, of capturing their attention and creating an emotive personal connection with them.
As technology is a driving force of change and, no doubt, innovation in your work, just how much influence does this have on your business?
It is so easy to get left behind in this industry. Production has changed dramatically in the past few decades. Ten years ago we used a super
16 mm film camera to get that really nice film look; these days, we shoot everything on my Canon Mark II camera, and the results are instant and a lot cheaper. The relationship with clients has also changed dramatically. From once utilising a preview room in your office, where the client would come to view the ad, we can now just email them an mp4 file, and they can approve it from any device they choose, albeit an iPhone, PC, Tablet – the flexibility is there. By embracing technology, we can turn around ads quicker, but still with the highest level of quality – which is great for us and our clients.
Being a successful small business owner, are there any tips to success that you can share?
The most important tip I think I can reinforce is to enjoy what you do and have a passion for it. When you do this, success will always follow. It’s not about the money. I also think it is important to have a point of difference from competitors and to never compromise it. My aim is to make good quality TV ads, and I never compromise on this guiding principle.
You mentioned that having a happy work environment and staff is an important part of a successful business. How have you achieved this in your business?
It’s important to have a balance with work and play, and this extends to staff. In my business I have strived to really create a flexible work environment, where give and take is encouraged, as long as it doesn’t affect work commitments. It works, because of the mutual respect and understanding I have with my staff. I also think rewarding staff with incentives is really valuable at empowering them to go the extra mile. And I don’t mean sales incentives! We sit down and talk to our staff about things they enjoy in their lives and reward them with something they really want. For example, one staff member wanted to get into BMX riding, so we decided to go halves in the cost of a new bike for him.
Do you have a mentor? Tell us about him/her and how they have helped you in your career/life?
My dad is probably my biggest mentor. He lives in Sydney and runs a successful retail fashion business. He’s always the first person I call if I need business advice. He’s very proud of what I’ve achieved, and I can definitely attribute a lot of my success to his guidance and unwavering support.
Jack McCoy has also been a big influence on me. He taught me so much about filming and to never compromise. He was always the first on the beach and the last to leave at sunset. His commitment and dedication always ensured he got the most amazing shots, and that’s why he’s undoubtedly the best surfing cinematographer in the world.
You recently won the Coffs Harbour Westpac Bank’s small business grant for innovation in small business – congratulations! What does this award mean for your business?
We were very honoured to receive this award from Westpac Bank. Coastal Media has always tried to invest in the latest equipment and technology, and this grant will allow us to keep on the edge of innovation with our work. We recently produced an ad for the C.ex Group filming a car out on the Jetty and edited it using new 3D technology.
I want Coastal Media to be able to compete with the large metro media businesses and not just be seen as a small regional business. So it’s very important to be up to date with the latest filming capabilities and editing technologies in this industry – otherwise we’ll be left for dead!
You’re also involved in many local community events …
I have set up a company called Village Sports with another local, Mick Maley, and one of the events we are running is an Olympic Distance triathlon in early March 2013. We’re really excited to have secured BCU as the major sponsor for the next 3 years.
All profits will be donated to local children’s charities. The interest has been overwhelming. We’re so lucky to be able to showcase Coffs with a spectacular swim course in the harbour, a ride out along Hogbin Drive and a run around the jetty foreshores.
This story was published in issue 23 of the Coffs Coast Focus