Frost's death leaves legacy, leadership void

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Geoffrey Frost, who turned 77-year-old radio manufacturer Motorola into a hip, young brand, died suddenly last week, leaving a gaping void at the company and in a marketing world that had come to rely on the change agent for leadership.

Mr. Frost, who only days before his death was promoted to exec VP-chief marketing officer for Motorola, died early Nov. 17 at his home in Illinois. The cause is not yet known. He was in his mid-50s, but didn't like to reveal his precise age and recently told Ad Age, "I'm 17 forever."

His death provoked an outpouring of grief from colleagues, who expressed in personal and professional terms that Mr. Frost would be sorely missed. "I have been very fortunate to know Geoffrey, who remains an inspiration as a creative force, as a brilliant marketer, and as a leader who truly cares," said Jim Stengel, global marketing officer, Procter & Gamble Co. and Motorola board member. "Geoffrey's legacy will continue at Motorola, a brand and company he so loved and transformed. He leaves an enormous hole in our industry and in our hearts."

Motorola Chairman-CEO Ed Zander called Mr. Frost "an innovative and charismatic leader, and Motorolans around the world came to rely on him as a trusted colleague and a friend. Motorola and the marketing community have lost a creative genius."

George Neill, corporate-VP marketing, was named as interim replacement for Mr. Frost's function, which has become a key position at the company now recognized for its youth-oriented cool image. Mr. Frost is credited with being the architect of that image and also used his position to imbue the organization with a design ethos that helped spawn the Razr-the phone that enabled it to retake its market leadership in the U.S.-and the upcoming launches, the Slvr and Pebl.

An artist

Under Mr. Frost's leadership, Motorola "catapulted as a brand back into the front of consumer consciousness around the world," said John Jackson, senior analyst, wireless/mobile technologies, Yankee Group. Chris Ambrosio, director-wireless device strategies at Strategy Analytics, said Motorola's growth has been outpacing that of the general wireless market. "Two years ago, Motorola was your dad's old radio company. Today it is a hip, cool brand for younger users."

Executives who worked with Mr. Frost said they expected this legacy would live on at Motorola and that his marketing team would want to continue his work. They confessed, however, that Mr. Frost was more artist than scientist and that he hadn't always turned his thinking into easily repeated processes.

In particular they wondered what would become of one of Mr. Frost's latest passions-the restructuring of the client-agency relationship. Mr. Frost was close to sealing a deal with Omnicom Group to create what he hoped would be a model of the agency network of the future, what he called a network with a lower case "n," one centered on ideas and talent rather than predetermined agency structures.

His vision, as described in an interview with Advertising Age's Point, was not of the traditional networks where, he believed, "you often found that your `global network' was really just the office in London or Sydney or Beijing, because they wanted to keep all the money themselves." Instead, he saw the network as an agent that would bring in the best talent from across a wide range of its shops, providing "different things at different times for different jobs."

Mr. Frost had begun to put that plan into place through discussions with Omnicom President-CEO John Wren and BBDO CEO Andrew Robertson, according to executives familiar with the situation. Already, Mr. Frost had assigned BBDO work for the launch of the iTunes Razr phone and the upcoming launch of the Slvr, a candy bar shaped Razr which will have iTunes capabilities. He also handed an assignment to sibling shop Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

Believer in collaboration

His desire to change the typical agency relationship was typical of Mr. Frost, who became one of the leading spokesmen for a new breed of marketers whom, he believed, should take charge of their brands-rather than relying on an agency to steward communications-and co-create brand communications. In fact, he was a big believer in collaborative endeavor and thought success in the cellphone business would come to those companies that worked together, not those that competed and tried to own everything exclusively.

Mr. Frost was born in New York City, the son of an account executive at Young & Rubicam. He worked in New York at Scali McCabe Sloves and a number of shops in the city and Europe, before winding up at Foote Cone & Belding. He later became Nike's global director of advertising and brand communications, where he shook up the status quo by adding a second shop, Goodby, Silverstein, to a roster long dominated by Wieden & Kennedy.

Mr. Frost joined Motorola in 1999, a time when stiff competition from Nokia led some analysts to ponder whether Motorola might have to abandon the handset business altogether. Mr. Frost built out the "Hello Moto" campaign from agency Ogilvy & Mather.

He also moved away from the commonplace practice of naming phones with numbers and letters into a system reminiscent of words used in instant messaging. Motorola has sold 12 million Razrs since the phone's introduction in the second quarter of 2004, according to Strategy Analytics.

Mr. Frost also survived what is one of the biggest challenges facing any corporate chief marketing office: a turnover in the executive suite, in this case the arrival of former Sun Microsystems executive Ed Zander in 2004 to take over from Christopher Galvin whose grandfather founded the company.

Tall, and with a booming laugh, Mr. Frost was remembered for his embrace of the products he was selling, showing up in his Nike days at the San Francisco offices of Goodby wearing business casual and decked out with the latest Nike gear on his feet, often large puffy athletic shoes in orange and green, or yellow or purple. He also was known for his "gluttonous consumption" of pop culture, said Jeff Goodby, co-chairman of the agency. "He was like a kid about that kind of stuff."

Mr. Frost had recently chosen to mentor Numair Faraz, a young man he met an industry event. Mr. Faraz said of his teacher: "Geoffrey wasn't a person. Geoffrey was more of an event, or an experience."

Mr. Frost is survived by his wife. Memorial plans are pending.

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