Geoffrey Frost died in Chicago on November 17 of natural causes. He was Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer and brand stewart at Motorola. We remember him as a man responsible for one of the great acts of corporate creativity and brand rescue of our time.
Frost and the phone that saved Motorola
Motorola had pioneered the mobile-phone industry, but in the early 1990s it was foundering. It had lost nearly $6.5 billion in 2001-2002, and was now well behind Nokia, the category leader in the headset market. Korean competitors were beginning to take away market share, and Samsung and LG now had, as Anthony puts it, a "lock on cool." Motorola found itself in a competitive "death valley." It was too small to outmuscle Nokia, too large to out-innovate the Koreans.
Frost thought he saw a way out of this position and he made himself the champion of a phone called Razr that had emerged from the Moto City design center in Chicago. This slender, expensive phone was introduced in August of 2004 and it managed to exceed the company’s total lifetime projections for the product in its first three months.
One of Frost’s colleagues at Motorola, Roger Jellicoe, remembers Frost’s role.
[Frost] was frustrated with how stodgy our products had become. He wanted a couple of initiatives up and running that would break that image. ‘I don’t care what you have to do, let’s get this done.’
Frost left behind this glimpse of his strategy when he drew four lessons from the Razr success:
1. "It was a bet being made, not a base being covered. We didn’t even include it in the sector’s business plan."
2. "No compromise was the standard operating procedure. We didn’t juggle tradeoffs, we just insisted on excellence."
3. "We didn’t try to predict the market for the product based on history, we bet that if it was good enough, it would make its own market."
4. "We put the best, brightest, craziest, and most passionate people we had on it."
"Make it’s own market," now that the way marketer’s used to do it. But Razr was not just a matter of having the courage of one’s convictions. Frost had also found a way to spare the Razr Motorola’s version of "death by committee." (This is nicely documented by Anthony, below.)
It is clear that Ed Zander, the CEO who joined Motorola in 2004, also contributed both to Frost’s opportunities and his new passion. Zander put dollars behind the Razr, but he made a more fundamental contribution to the world in which Frost was working. Here is Frost talking about the effect Zander had on the Motorola corporate culture.
The single biggest change is the meetings have become much more lively, much quicker, much more participatory and conversational, if not occasionally a free-for-all. We’re getting back to the original culture that was Motorola: smart people figuring out things fast.
The admiration was mutual. Zander remembers Frost this way:
Frost was instrumental in making Motorola’s brand cool again. From the start, he shared his infectious enthusiasm for breaking the established norms and challenged us to see the world in a new way. His fresh insights, passion, energy and commitment to excellence in everything helped renew and re-invent Motorola.
Frost was a phenomenon. He won several awards, including an "Effie" Award in 2000 for advertising effectiveness. He was also named one of the marketers of the year for 2005 by Brand Week and Ad Age.
But I am not sure this is quite good enough for a marketer of this stature. And for those of us who are struggling to figure out the secrets of the new marketing, it leaves key questions unanswered, not least, "who was Geoffrey Frost?"
Looking for Geoffrey Frost
Here’s what I have been able to piece together about Frost from various sources on the internet. I would be most grateful if blog readers who knew Frost would please give me any additional details they might have. I have emailed Jennifer Weyrauch at Motorola and I will post anything she is able to send me.
What little we know.
Frost was raised in New York. I have been unable to determine where he was to school but we know he spoke Russian and Japanese. The first official notice of his career puts him at Grey Worldwide and then Scali, McCabe, Sloves, as a creative. The second puts him at Foote, Cone & Belding as executive vice president. He appears to have lived in London, Paris and Hong Kong. He went to Nike in 1996 as global director of advertising and brand communications and there he oversaw brand strategy, advertising, direct marketing and Nike.com. He was responsible for campaigns featuring Michael Jordan ("Frozen Moment") and Tiger Woods ("Hello World" and "I am Tiger Woods"). In 1998, Frost received the Cannes Grand Prix for best campaign in the world at the International Advertising Festival.
Frost joined Motorola in 1999 as corporate vice president of global marketing and communications for the Personal Devices business. He oversaw brand management, advertising, entertainment marketing, public relations, sponsorships, promotional activities, agency management, customer marketing and global consumer communications strategies. In 2003, he was promoted to senior vice president of marketing and chief brand officer. Frost because Executive Vice President in 2004 and was then the head of Motorola’s marketing, communications, advertising, events and design functions.
We know Frost was married but nothing else of his private life. We know next to nothing about his intellectual or managerial style. We don’t know where his passion for design came from. We don’t know he found his way to the agency world.
From an anthropological point of view, this is just odd. We are now treated to endless recitations of the world according to Peter Jackson, the director of King Kong. Geoffrey Frost made his own quite spectacular contribution to contemporary (and corporate) culture. Shouldn’t we know a little more about him?
Anonymous. Geoffrey Frost, Motorola exec, dies at 56. United Press International.
Nov 18, 2005. here.
Anthony, Scott D. Making the Most of a Slim Chance. Strategy and Innovation, Vol. 3, No. 4, July/August 2005. Reproduced in the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge under the title, "Motorola’s Bet on the Razr’s Edge." September 12, 2005. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2005. The Malamud Effect: ideas and the corporation. This blog sits at the… September 23, 2005. here.
Sampey, Kathy. 2005. Motorola CMO Geoffrey Frost Dies. BrandWeek. November 17, 2005. here.
Silverstone, Sean. 2005. Ed Zander on Motorola’s Tech Turnaround. HBS Working Knowledge.
November 28, 2005. here.
I haven’t heard anything from Motorola but there is an illuminating interview with Frost in The Hub, posted at Diablogue here.
Still no word from Motorola, but Tim Manners of The Hub was kind enough to remember Mr. Frost this way:
I interviewed Geoffrey by phone in August but never met him. He was an outstanding interview — far more thoughtful, candid and forward-looking than many other CMOs. He seemed unusually clear on where he wanted to go with Motorola and extremely excited about it. We need more people like him in marketing.
See the full interview here.
Geoffrey Frost’s wife recently passed away and her obituary, written by Padmasree Warrior ,may be found here.