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Episode 88: Perfecting the Art of Law Firm Marketing with Steve Nober, Founder and CEO of Consumer Attorney Marketing Group

Sharon:      Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast. Today my guest is Steve Nober, founder and CEO of Consumer Attorney Marketing Group. Founded a decade ago, CAMG works with law firms to connect their digital, print, TV and radio marketing campaigns. We’ll hear more from Steve and learn more about CAMG today. Steve, welcome to the program.

Steve:         Hey, thank you, thank you, happy to be here.

Sharon:      So glad to have you. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into legal marketing and how you founded CAMG.

Steve:         O.K., so it starts—before CAMG, I used to run the largest media buying agency in the country in the infomercial space. As you are probably familiar with, your listeners, all the whacky, crazy gadgets and products that you see on infomercials—we worked companies like Guthy-Renker, Proactiv and the Shamwow guy, and all sorts of—and the Magic Bullet Blender and all the crazy products—and so we did that for years and I ran that business for five years.

When I left it, the key to the direct response marketers, like the infomercial marketing folks, is they track everything they do. They track every radio spot, TV spot, all their digital and they only re-buy and run what seems to be working at whatever metrics they use to measure. So, when I left that agency and started my own company, we were doing marketing, direct response similar in production of commercials and measuring, but not for legal and I ended up working with two law firms ten years ago who wanted us to run some ad store campaigns and it’s the same process with production of creative and measuring and using unique phone numbers. Anyway, we ran campaigns and they worked better than the law firms had ever seen before to a huge degree and they were a pleasure to deal with and so I’ve always been very entrepreneurial, so we looked to see in the country what agencies were helping law firms do marketing, but much like this directive response style, it’s sort of money bought for marketing which is really measuring what’s working and making changes faster than I think law firms normally do with identifying where to go to market and where not to, and so I saw just an unbelievable opportunity ten years ago and that’s when we started Consumer Attorney Marketing Group and we follow the similar practices. I can get into more of those details, but similar to what we’ve learned how to make campaigns work for law firms.

Sharon:      Wow! That must have been so groundbreaking. I’m just thinking about the tracking even because it’s so—I mean I know when I started in law firm marketing, after a few years, I gave up even trying to ask firms to start tracking because people were like, “I know it in my head.” Was it a big change for you to work with these law firms or how did it go?

Steve:         Yes, you’re right on, I’ll tell you. I think one of the big, big secrets to marketing is just figuring out which half of what you’re doing isn’t working or isn’t working well. It’s not even about which half is working but identifying what doesn’t work and then changing it quickly improves probability that your case costs will go down, that your marketing does better and so yeah, Sharon, I would talk to firms and they’d say, “We ask people to call us. We know where it comes from because we ask everybody” and I think it’s well-known that’s not a science; it’s not highly accurate. I have many firms like—just as an example—that have never been on radio and people call them all the time and say, “Yeah, we heard you on the radio” and so it’s a mixed bag. I’m glad when firms ask and keep track of it. They really should and it does matter, but I’ll tell you where it falls apart. If I’m speaking to a roomful of lawyers and I ask them to raise their hands, everybody that tracks where these leads come from and their people on the intake ask the questions and they keep track of it and I get a whole roomful of arms that go in the air and then I’ll say, “All right, now how many of you do something about it quickly” and the room goes silent. I mean it’s interesting. The firms are very quick to brag about tracking, which is great, but if you don’t make the moves from the data quickly, as quick as you can, then you’re not perfecting the art of marketing and making it as much of a science as possible.

So that’s what we try and do because firms aren’t built to do—they can count; they can keep track of it, but the level of what we do, a firm is just not built to do it. It’s interesting to have this kind of dialogue with a lawyer and especially a really sophisticated one who knows about marketing because we get really deep into the nuances of tracking and what kinds of changes and what we do and it’s great. It’s a long answer to your question, but yeah, it’s always an interesting discussion.

Sharon:      Yeah, I’m impressed that you get people to track, I mean to persuade them to track as part of what you’re doing. Tell us a little bit—if I come from a law firm, personal injury—you do mostly plaintiff work, right?

Steve:         Yeah, it’s all plaintiffs and it breaks up between—half our business is mass tort, which is mostly national, some local and then half our business is the local personal injuries attorney doing car crash, nursing home, med mal, catastrophic injury, etc., yeah.

Sharon:      Steve, tell me a little bit about how does this work. Who does the creative? For instance, if I come to you, do you do the creative?

Steve:         Yeah, and so we produce it all in-house. If we travel around the country, we’ll bring our director and a producer or myself, whoever goes in, then will a local team if we use a studio or we need folks for lights and sound. Every market has studios and talented people that can help with our stuff and so if we do it here in L.A., we shoot infomercials here and we have a studio or we can go use any studio. We often go to law firms and shoot in their office and in their conference room with them walking around, holding meetings, talking to people and getting lots of B-roll which is just extra video we can cut in to the commercial. Then all of this can be used for video content.

We have a program we rolled out this year for video content. We think that’s really a big deal having great video that’s unique and innovative to put everywhere, to put on their LinkedIn and on their YouTube and on their website, to post everywhere they can and so we’ve become a big producer of just video content for the firms we work with beyond if we’re doing commercials. There’s a lot of video content being produced, yeah and we do it all in-house.

Sharon:      And will you redo—if a law firm has a commercial already, like you said, you’ll look at it and say it’s way too soft or we have to really hit harder or whatever.

Steve:         Yeah, so a lot of firms will come to us and say, “We already have great commercials, Steve. Can you guys just help—do your measuring, do your media buying and help us figure out how to make it work?” And yeah, we do this all the time. We’ll do a review of their commercials and if we’ll give an honest assessment and if they want to use them, we’ll use their creative and do everything else we do. If we think they should be edited or tweaked or even just reproduce new stuff, we’ll tell them. It’s probably half and half. Often, they have really good stuff they’ve produced. We’ll run with it and often we’ll have no ideas and say, “Let us come in and actually reshoot” and maybe we want to shoot five-minute spots too and even the half-hour I talked about and so the answer’s yes; we do a review and then figure it out together. They really want an honest assessment. They don’t want lip service, so to speak. They really want to know and so we’re honest about it.

Sharon:      No, I’m sure they’re coming to you to say, “Don’t tell us how great it is because we’re not getting the calls we want. Just tell us what needs to be done.”

What I thought was really interesting on your website, one of the videos you have talks about the fact that right now because of what’s going on with COVID. First of all, you’re practicing what you preach, I have to say, because it’s so timely and so like today what you’re saying—it’s not like, “I recorded this three years ago and we just haven’t changed anything,” but you said that in broadcast, you can get more for your money right now because of the things going on. Can you tell us more about that?

Steve:         Yeah, now COVID going on—we’re in a year, but Sharon, if you remember when this first started, in the first three or six months, the advertisers, not legal, but just all the big-brand advertisers, the car dealerships and the insurance companies, everybody you see on TV, they were just backing out, canceling and went dark and so that’s an opportunity for law firms because what happened is all the big-brand advertisers wanted to get off the air. They didn’t want to be seen advertising in such a terrible pandemic, as we’re still struggling in now, and so that opened up inventory and dropped rates of what advertisers that still wanted to be on the air could go and buy their advertising and then it’s sort of a perfect storm.

It’s not in a sense COVID, which is terrible, but from an advertiser’s perspective, you’ve had, and you still have more people at home. Look now, everybody is working from home and so you have more people listening to media, watching TV online than we’ve ever had before and so when you combine that with more listeners, more eyeballs, with lower media rates and more veils, then it became a banner opportunity for the advertisers that still wanted to advertise.

If you fast forward through today, we still have a similar situation, not nearly as strong as it was. Advertisers have come back. Rates have gone back up. Eyeballs are still very high and so it’s still a banner opportunity between the increased amount of people watching media and the rates that are still available and so yeah, we’re big fans right now of still running on TV and broadcast versus cable is a sort of a different conversation. We still like digital big time. Pay-per-click click is up. Cost per keyword is higher than maybe it’s ever been and so there are definitely—it’s not all lower costs in media that’s cheap and so you’ve got to pick. This goes back to measuring. You’ve got to pick and choose then where to buy, where you can take advantage of COVID-like opportunities from a media sense and then measure it to see what works and see what doesn’t.

I’ll tell you, we created an interesting program during COVID. The traffic patterns of everybody changed. We all stayed home and so the amount of people that were out on the streets, the number of cars that were out got very quiet for a while. I think personal injury attorneys got very worried that there weren’t going to be that many accidents because behaviors had changed and it’s true—fewer cars—

Sharon:      I don’t mean to laugh, but yeah, O.K.

Steve:         Yeah, and so this mobility factor, you can measure, and every city was different on how it was in the COVID, sort of spikes up or down or people sheltering. As we know, there are different cities within even a state that’s having different rules about sheltering and eating out, etc., and so we created something called motion metrics and any firm in the country can ask us for that and it’s exclusive in that market, but basically we take feeds from three sort of gold-standard traffic ranking companies who track the patterns and supply like Google Maps and Waze, and so we’ve aggregated three data sources—this has never been done before—into one heat map to look at traffic, congestion and accidents in every market in the country in real time.

So, Sharon, if someone called us from San Francisco or Seattle or Portland, we could quickly run our motion metrics data and create a heat map that shows this last week, this last month in real time, very short period from now where traffic is congesting the most, where accidents are happening the most and where traffic patterns are and so all of that helps you decide if you’re going to run outdoor billboards. Where is there available inventory? We can layer available boards over a heat map from motion metrics to see where the most ample opportunities are to get a board if someone wanted to do outdoor and we rank the boards with a score that has a few different features in it, but based on proximity and speed and timing and visibility, we rank the boards and so we can put together a campaign for a law firm in a local market that is highly based on traffic congestion and accident patterns.

We can also take that data and say, “Let’s geofence or geotarget in those traffic areas or nursing homes or tow yards” or whatever areas that law firm is more interested in. You can geofence it and serve up social networking and so there’s a whole digital outdoor, a whole series of programs we’ve since created now that we capture what this data, we call motion metrics and we have a brochure on it that explains a lot more, but it’s fascinating because it basically says every city’s different right now with COVID. Mobility is different. Sheltering is different and how does a law firm gain advantage? You asked earlier: How do you compete against everybody else to actually make a difference? It’s having visibility to a heat map like I’ve just described that your competitors can’t look at because it doesn’t exist unless someone looks at what we’re looking at and they’d have to pay a lot of money to aggregate the data from these three different sources and so that’s just one of the examples that we’re trying to steer firms through COVID and just be smarter in such a crazy time.

Sharon:      Wow! I mean that’s really a competitive advantage. So, Steve, how do you work with let’s say a firm like ours? If a firm already has an in-house marketing department and/or has a marketing firm that doesn’t do what you do, does maybe more—what people think traditionally marketing might do—work with people on business development or collateral and PR as we do, how do you work with that? I mean I can see somebody feeling very threatened basically.

Steve:         Yeah, it’s a good question. I mean that’s big question. So, I’ll take the different examples. If a firm has an agency now, an agency of record, doing their TV or radio or outdoor—I have a saying: I always feel like half the people out there—when I say people, the law firms—not just law firms, but anybody using an outside agency—all the time, half of them are probably not very happy with the results because advertising is difficult to begin with. So, if someone has an agency of record—if we’re talking to them and we go through all our programs, if I were them, they have to look, and if they have an agency that’s sort of what I call sets it and forgets it: They buy the media; they don’t ask for the call data weekly or daily; they’re not tracking and trying to optimize; they’re not making changes; they let media run for a quarter or six months. I think a lot just buy the media and let it run for a year. That would be unheard of for us because it would just scare me how much of that media might not be working very well and no one’s tracking it to know it. Even if they’re branding the firm, there’s still a tracking mechanism to brand marketers to still be smarter about where they do their branding and so law firms have to ask themselves are they getting everything they can. It’s not a dress rehearsal. So, if their agency isn’t doing all the things I’m talking about, they should really consider why case costs aren’t getting lower. Then to me it’s like, “Come on. It’s a no-brainer. You have an agency that’s sort of buying, setting, forgetting and you’re wondering why your costs are going up and your competitors are beating you.”

If they have internal marketers, then yeah, they have to not be threatened. Normally law firms that have internal marketing folks, they’re not staffed or trained to do the level of tracking and media management, and what we’re doing and have the data we have from all over the country on what media prices should be, what stations or networks we find work universally across multiple states and cities and so normally the marketing will manage us and we’re not a threat, but we’re a vendor that’s super-transparent and we work hand-in-hand to try and make decisions together and we add value and then it’s not a threat.

If it’s a firm that just says, “No, we buy our own media. I got a person who’s been my best friend and we buy media for twenty years with this girl or this guy,” then sometimes there’s nothing we can do about it. We can show them all the data in the world; they’re not going to do a thing about it and that happens all the time as well and so I’m out doing things like podcasts like this, Sharon, or I’m speaking at conferences when that was a thing you could do and our firm has—we do webinars all the time on mass torts or we just did a nursing home one a few weeks ago and so we try and stay relevant and participate all we can in the market so people can hear what I’m talking about and then size up like internally what are they doing, how are results, really be honest and then we’ll end up talking if they want to talk.

Sharon:      What you’re saying about the fact that you are so specialized and people—yeah, you have to be trained in the area you’re trained in and have the experience you do as opposed to somebody—marketers in-house especially wear so many hats and this is such an intense hat in a sense.

Steve:         There are almost four hundred employees to our company in the six divisions. I mean it’s crazy. It makes me sick sometimes. There’s not a law firm that can duplicate that. They have to figure out if we can just help them.

Sharon:      Right, that makes a lot of sense and I like the fact that you’re saying that you work hand-in-hand because that’s how it has to work with any outside person if you’re not sitting inside the firm anyway, even hand-in-hand all the time.

Tell me, in your experience working with law firms, what are the top three mistakes you see law firms make when they embark on one of your programs or are considering it?  What are the top three mistakes they make?

Steve:         One is just not measuring their advertising results. It’s like look at the movie Money Ball and Billy Bean came in in the olden days and he started measuring and doing analysis on who to draft and who not to and found opportunities that were cheaper than any other team and ended up winning the World Series with the lowest payroll I think just about in the league and so that’s a gross example though of the value of data and analysis and so if firms want to improve—advertising is all about probability. There’s nothing guaranteed. If it were, we’d all be doing it, but it’s not.  So, it’s a lot making steps to improve probability.

I think the number one thing firms might not be doing is just really trying to peg—and they’re not doing it purposely; they’re just busy running a law firm—is tracking what they’re doing to do enough analysis to be smart about—and we’ve talked about this now this entire podcast—but I think that’s one of them. It’s just not measuring what’s doing what, where, when and what the perfect balance is.

I think other ones that I mentioned are: understanding their objectives and then making sure that they’re marketing their objectives which could be media-creative messaging. We just see a disconnect there often and so are they out doing—and it could just be digital marketing. So, whatever they’re doing, does it match their objectives and that’s a good, honest assessment that could help them then decide what changes may need to be made.

Another big thing that’s missed a lot is just call handling. Are they using best practices—and I’m sure, Sharon, you guys cover this a lot with just intake, qualifying, how they answer the phone, do they have coverage after hours, is it quality coverage; people aren’t sitting on hold too long; calls aren’t abandoning; are they auditing the calls to hear how the experience is—like that call intake handling piece is we think critical because look at all the work and money it takes just to get your phone to ring and so to not handle it with excellence would be a disaster and so I think those are the three things at the top of my head right away that we deal with and we see a lot.

Sharon:      Wow! I’m thinking about just the call, how people handle calls and the call—the first voice you hear or whether you are on hold for a long time, that sort of thing really.

Steve:         Oh yeah, it’s scary for a principal of a law firm to listen to some of their calls. How can they fix it or train or have the best practices if they don’t do their own audit? I’ll tell you: in our call center, we listen to 5% or 6% of our calls with our own team of people auditing our calls all the time because I’d be shooting myself in the foot if I’m doing the marketing and I’m answering the calls, and if we’re not answering the calls with best practices, then that would be terrible. So, we can preach how to manage a call center and auditing and all those things because we’re living it every day.

Sharon:      I’m just thinking how much money is going into giving that one call and getting it answered right. I mean it just makes so much of a difference.

Steve, you’ve told us all about your firm and what your services are. I could talk to you for another hour or two about it, but what have I missed in terms of what do firms need to know about your firm, its role in law firm marketing? What else would you like us to know?

Steve:         We’ve covered a lot, Sharon, but thank you for asking that. I mentioned earlier a lot of firms got a little worried about their PI business with COVID and so they started looking at what can they do and mass torts became very interesting, litigations with medical devices or drugs that have gone bad in joining the mass tort world and then not having a lot of experience in mass torts, most of our clients are single-event, personal injury firms in their local markets who have been watching or seeing the most success in mass torts and they want to go participate and so we introduce them on a JV deal or co-counsel deal with the experts in leadership for whichever litigations they want to get into and that is interesting. That’s become a trend that’s growing like a hockey stick which is just personal injury firms diversifying and part of that diversification is going into mass torts and just signing a co-counsel deal. Literally the phones can ring, and we will sign the agreements to go straight to their partner firm to handle until settlement. So that’s a change—it’s not a change from COVID; that’s always been going on. I would say it’s accelerated from COVID with firms that got spooked, that their car accident business theoretically could just dry up. I think we’re seeing a lot more cars on the road again, but it’s opened up the idea of mass torts to non-mass-tort firms I think more than ever.  I think we covered a lot. The whole idea of us integrating these bundled services—we’ve been doing it for ten years and so there’s a value to dealing with a vendor.

I can comment just for a minute on ethics, Sharon, because this is a big deal. All these law firms are getting hit up with brokers and marketers and e-mails. It’s very confusing and so we speak a lot, and we publish and do a lot on ethics of advertising to try and help firms differentiate using a marketer who understands ethics and ones who often do not, and so we have a white paper we’ve published written by three of who I think are maybe the best ethics lawyers in the country, and that white paper gets updated every month in real time with any ethics rules that change. I think it’s titled something like “The Seven Biggest Things to Make Sure You’re Covered on Dealing with Lead Generators” and it goes into detail about all the pitfalls and how to watch out for them and make sure you’re clear with any marketer you’re working with, that you know you’re ethically sound and you’re working within the rules of your state bar’s advertising rules.

We also created on our website an ethics center which has every state’s advertising rules on our website updated in real time. So, a firm can go to our website and look up their state’s advertising rules and know that it’s been updated with any changes on a daily basis. They don’t all change every day, but they do change. We’ve tried to be a resource center between our white paper and speaking about ethics and the reference of looking at the rules on our site because the penalties are significant, even if the law firm didn’t know how these leads were being originated. Was it robodialing? Was it from a list they never should have had? Was it from marketing that didn’t disclose who the advertising law firm was in their state? And there’s a bunch of simple things that can be very expensive and so I always like to try and cover like we are now just for a few minutes the ethics because it’s so easy. If the price sounds too cheap and unreal, it probably is there’s probably something wrong.  If it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right.

Sharon:      Well, I’m sure—just thinking about ethics, just what you’re talking about—they do change and it’s always so confusing. Is this crossing the line? It’s good to have that resource that you’re talking about. Steve, thank you so much for being here today.

Steve:         Oh, it’s a pleasure.

Sharon:      It’s been so great to talk to you.

Steve:         Yeah, thank you, Sharon, I appreciate the time. I hope this has been helpful.  I know it’s hard to answer everything. Like you said, we could talk for hours, so maybe we’ll do it again sometime.

Sharon:      Oh definitely, I’d love to do that. O.K., thank you. Hopefully I can see you in person soon, so thank you.

Steve:         All right, take care, everybody.

Sharon:      You too, thank you so much.

We hope you apply what you learned here today to propel your firm forward. If you have questions or want even more resources, go to Berbay.com and as always, thank you for listening.

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