What I've Learnt: Neil Morris, Founder & CEO at Grand Visual

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

Neil Morris created Grand Visual - an award-winning production company providing creative services for DOOH - in 2005.

He and his team developed OpenLoop, the first DOOH campaign management AdTech platform for dynamic, real-time content across multiple networks and markets. Grand Visual supports the industry with dynamic and contextual work for brands like Google in the UK and the US, McDonald’s, and Spotify; plus interactive and AR projects for Pepsi Max, Amazon Prime and Spiderman.

We found out the things he's learnt.

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

This is a tricky one right now! In a time before Coronavirus I’d board a number 38 bus at Victoria Station every morning and as the bus winds its way to Soho I’d spend the time contemplating life, love, and the day ahead of course. It is therapeutic to be trundling along in the heart of the city, surrounded by people but able to pause and think for 15 minutes without meetings, calls and emails.

Nowadays it’s not quite the same! I miss the hustle and bustle of Piccadilly and can’t wait to be back in the real world.  

What's been your luckiest break?

It was in early 2005, having run and sold an independent production company to a tech business, I was on the spot when the first digital escalator panels were introduced at Tottenham Court Road Underground Station. This marked the start of the digitisation of the out of home advertising medium in the UK.

Nowadays digital accounts for over 50% of the OOH spend in the UK, with many markets catching up. But back then it was just emerging and with my business partner, Dan Dawson, we could see the production and creative challenges and opportunities for this new channel. 15 years later we are still going strong.

What's your best failure?

I’m a failed City fund manager. After a Psychology degree from Bristol University I found myself in a pinstripe suit as a junior fund manager in the City (Mincing Lane to be precise). It was not for me! It helped me reduce my student overdraft, but I made a swift exit and headed for the exciting world of advertising and production.

What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?

All along our journey in digital out of home, we have tried to push the envelope, innovate, and drive more creative use of an exciting medium. Bringing new tech to market is a risky investment but the effort and energy we put into building our OpenLoop platform for managing dynamic creative optimisation was definitely a game changer for us.

How would you describe your work/life balance?

Pretty perfect right now. I’m at home with my family, dog and cat. My teenage daughters can’t go out. Phew! I get to see them all at various points during the day and my office is a few seconds away. The only thing missing is a number 38 bus.

But seriously - it’s weird right now. I miss the interactions of the office and with clients. And I miss being out in the real world and enjoying the phenomenal city that London is.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

The books that have had the greatest influence on me and been most memorable are those I read as a kid. Foremost in those is probably 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' by Mark Twain. It’s full of the excitement of making one’s way in life with plenty of scrapes and ignoring convention and being bold, along the way touching on racism, childhood, and the importance of loyalty and courage - all set on the extraordinary Mississippi River. Heady stuff for a ten-year-old boy in South London.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Enjoy yourself. Keep that going and you’ll be fine. 

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

My parents - both academics with a sharp focus on an intellectual approach to life. They instilled in me a desire to understand situations, people and processes that have helped enormously (and also been a bit of a problem in certain circumstances). 

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I appeared on Bruce Forsyth’s “You Bet!” Saturday evening TV show in about 1989.

What does success look like to you?

Anything that is well conceived, perfectly formed, novel and fit for purpose. Normally that sounds like successful product design but I think it applies to life in general.