Finding & Funding
If you’ve watched any amount of late-night TV, you’ve undoubtedly experienced commercials of the “if you’ve been in an accident … ” variety. While these ads contribute to the stereotype of lawyer as ambulance chaser, they do reach people in trouble who might otherwise be reluctant to turn to the courts for assistance and legal relief.
But while finding a lawyer is the first step in any lawsuit you plan to file, in many cases the issue of how to find a lawyer will soon be supplanted by the question of how to fund one. If you have been in an auto accident or suffered a work-related injury—common situations in which a lawsuit might be needed to receive compensation from a party unwilling to admit guilt—then you might be in no position to work. “Claims like these might take months or even years to be resolved,” says Gary Chodes, founder and CEO of Oasis Legal Finance in Northbrook, Ill. “In that time, the plaintiff can get caught in a downward financial spiral, especially if they have unpaid medical bills.”
Oasis Legal Finance is one of many companies operating a relatively new type of financial service referred to as legal funding or third-party litigation financing. “We provide [plaintiffs] with funds to do things like pay the rent, pay a mortgage or make a car payment,” says Chodes. “With that support, they can continue to pursue their claim and have the best chance of getting what the claim is worth. The alternative is that they might settle for substantially less.”
Facts About Funding
As an industry, legal funding has been around for less than a decade. In general, legal funding resembles a loan; a financial company advances an individual a certain amount of money—perhaps 10 percent of the amount that the plaintiff is requesting in the lawsuit—then charges interest on that amount. Interest rates tend to be high—rates of 30 percent to 35 percent aren’t unheard of—but after a certain period of time, the interest rate drops to zero, thus capping the amount that the plaintiff has to repay.
How legal funding differs from a loan is that the plaintiff makes no monthly payments and doesn’t have to repay the lender until the lawsuit ends. What’s more, if the plaintiff loses the lawsuit, then the debt doesn’t have to be repaid at all. Other differences are that plaintiffs applying for legal funding need to put up no collateral, and they can’t apply for funding prior to the lawsuit being filed. Legal funding isn’t intended to help you pay for a lawyer; rather, it’s to make other payments while a lawsuit is under way.
When Oasis Legal Finance started in 2003, the company funded patent litigation, but it has since spun off funding for business lawsuits into a separate unit, Oasis Capital Corporation, and focused on funding individuals. While the consumer market involves much smaller dollar amounts, Chodes notes that the potential market is far larger. The only trouble, of course, is reaching that market effectively.
Turning to TV
Oasis initially tried to develop its consumer funding business through direct mail. “We had worked in acquisition mail, and the challenge there was acquiring the lists,” says Mike Olsen, chief marketing officer for Oasis. “There’s not many lists of plaintiffs in lawsuits that you can rent. We had done significant testing in developing the resources to be able to mail to them, but we were finding it too difficult.”
As a result, most of Oasis’ advertising consisted of building a presence on the Internet through pay-per-click advertising, organic search and, in Chodes’ words, “elementary optimization.” “Our first year,” which focused solely on corporate clients, he says, “was relatively modest, although it did give us the model for building Web presence.”
“We knew that we wanted to do DRTV (direct response television marketing) to expand the distribution channels,” says Olsen, “but as a start-up, you don’t want to invest the personnel to build an agency in-house.” After contacting a number of agencies, Oasis chose SendTec, a multichannel integrated direct marketing agency with offices in St. Petersburg, Fla. and New York, to take charge of both a DRTV campaign as well as Oasis’ search engine marketing.
Says Steven Morvay, SendTec’s executive vice president of client services and managing director, “We convinced them that DRTV was a channel that could be a large acquisition for them. The main attraction of DRTV is its ability to convey both sight and sound. Along with that is its ability to project the emotion that comes with being involved in legal suits, which can be quite disturbing to the life of a family and individual.”
From Broadcast to Broadband
The ideas and scripts for the DRTV spots are developed collaboratively between Oasis and SendTec, with the latter company handling postproduction. While creating the DRTV spots, SendTec is constantly figuring out how to tweak its approach to SEM for Oasis. Morvay says that SendTec’s search group reviews the scripts for the Oasis DRTV spots prior to them being filmed to do research and give feedback. “Our search team is buying and covering vast amounts of keywords that our clients need to get the traffic,” he says.
As with direct mail, DRTV can be tested and revised constantly, asking questions such as: What kind of creative works? Do you want cable or local? What time of day works best? “We created our first execution with a couple of variations, started relatively small and worked our way up,” says Morvay.
Oasis now spends more than $100,000 per month on TV spots nationwide—but it doesn’t just buy ad spots on national cable networks. “We’ve done a very robust customer-profile analysis so that we can identify areas of the country where our customers represent a large proportion of their county, ZIP or state,” says Chodes. “That’s allowed us on the media side to target our buying to get at that customer much more efficiently. It’s not so much that national buying doesn’t work, but that we can target the message better this way.”
How does SendTec help Oasis find its customers? Through a proprietary tool called iFactz that coordinates online and offline activity. Just as you can customize a direct marketing campaign with individual 1-800 numbers to gauge the response of one pitch over another—something Oasis does in its DRTV spots—iFactz examines unique URLs that are included in the televised ads.
While many people use a backslash to customize a URL, such as oasislegal.com/tv, Morvay says, “Fewer than 25 percent of people use that backslash.” Instead, they type in only the base URL—oasislegal.com—which removes any information that would link a page hit back to an ad spot. Instead, SendTec incorporates unique prefixes—such as 123.oasislegal.com—that people do tend to use. “All of the responses online are routed through our machines before going to the client, and iFactz monitors these requests,” he says.
More importantly, adds Morvay, iFactz can accurately predict where a request for a mistyped URL (such as 124.oasislegal.com) or a generic URL (oasislegal.com) originated since it can relate such requests to the DRTV ad schedules and the IP address on the searcher’s computer.
Search for Search and Ye Shall Find …
“We have developed a tremendous knowledge base of the effect of DRTV on search,” says Morvay. “We see our client’s search business going from a 5 percent response to four- and fivefold activity when we turn on DRTV. We estimate that anywhere between 30 [percent] to 50 percent of responses are floating into search engines directly.” After all, he says, many people either don’t know how to enter URLs directly into a browser, or they don’t bother to do so. Instead, they fire up their search engines of choice and search for words or phrases from the ad spot. SendTec picks up on these searches in a number of ways:
• As mentioned previously, the DRTV scripts are passed through the SendTec search team so that it knows which terms are central to the ads’ messages.
• SendTec buys URLs associated with unique phrases used in the commercials.
• The company also purchases URLs that people will accidentally search for, such as 123oasislegal.com, which lacks the period following the “123” prefix.
• SendTec uses a customized search management tool that alerts managers to bursts of activity in particular keywords or categories.
“From a search standpoint, it’s critical that all channels be coordinated at once,” says Morvay. “When we capture channels and see those rises, that campaign becomes a viable one with the ROI that our clients are looking for. If you don’t capture them, you might decide—wrongly—that TV doesn’t work.”
With that goal in mind, SendTec benchmarks natural search and homepage activity prior to turning on DRTV, so it can identify increases in traffic and long-term effects on search from the TV campaign. “When we use DRTV for the first time with a client, we can see the lift in search. Let’s say the level was at 100, whatever that scale might be. You turn on the TV, and the search goes to 150; when you turn it off, the search drops again, but it doesn’t drop down to 100.”
Olsen has seen that effect on the number of legal funding applications received by Oasis. “Our DRTV campaign drives a significant volume to the Web,” he says. “Approximately 10 [percent] to 15 percent of our applications are people who go to the Web after seeing the TV spot. Another 10 percent apply online directly.”
When looking at search keywords, the volume of applications from customers who search for brand terms (e.g., for Oasis or Oasis Legal) rose 187 percent from 2006 to 2007; applications from those who conducted nonbrand searches (e.g., for workers compensation in Wisconsin) rose 52 percent during that same time period. Says Olsen, “The results show the integrated approach with TV and the Internet. Our goal going forward is to duplicate that growth by revising the Web site, and improving the organic side of search and the evolution of our pay-per-click campaign.”
Revising the Web site and improving search are just some of the tweaks that the Oasis Legal campaign undergoes on a regular basis. “We’re constantly testing and retesting, whether it’s different ads on PPC, content on the Web or TV, specific offers, or our choice of broadcast TV or cable,” says Chodes. “The hurdles for DRTV are no different than for anyone else marketing directly: avoiding creative fatigue, finding new markets and responding to those who are driven to action.”
Oasis Legal is also branching out into radio. Olsen says that radio isn’t a core channel yet, although the company does plan to increase coverage in the future. “It’s taken some time, but more folks who have seen our DRTV ad or listened to our radio spot come to us through the Web than did 12 to 18 months ago.”
“The world has changed,” says Morvay, “and people are always searching for solutions to their needs. Once you understand that, you start to build your communication strategies differently, constantly optimizing them using online information. The growth of search is enormous, and while we’re rarely in the No. 1 spot, you don’t have to be No. 1 to get good ROI.”
W. Eric Martin is a freelance writer based in Concord, N.H. and the editor of BoardgameNews.com.