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Top 5 Tips to Keep Your Ads within the Law

Advertising can be one of the largest overheads costs a company has, and so after spending all that time and effort, you want to make sure nothing undermines the effort. One of the least enjoyable aspects of advertising is paying attention to the legal requirements. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) governs licensing for professionals in Illinois, including:

  • Qualification requirements for education to earn the license,
  • Criteria to obtain and keep the license, and
  • Expectations (both professional and ethical) for each profession.

Part of this regulatory framework for licensing includes rules about advertising for each profession. Fortunately, the regulations can be boiled down to six primary rules, although we will call them tips since some of them are obvious, making the tips more of a reminder for best practices and common sense.

Avoid Lying or Using Misleading Ads
Follow Retention Requirements
Disclose All License Information
Focus on Yourself
Highlight Your Specialization Only If You Are a Specialist
Always Go through This Checklist before Posting or Broadcasting Your Advertisement

Avoid Lying or Using Misleading Ads

This requirement is so well known that people tend to use it in jokes and daily discussions, but it is also one of the most critical rules to follow. For example, the Public Accounting Act states that IDFPR can refuse to license or renew a license, as well as impose a fine for any:

Solicitation of professional services by using false or misleading advertising.

As much as this rule seems like it should be common sense, there are many ways that companies can lie to or (more often) mislead their potential customers. The best way to ensure that you are not doing this is to have someone else review your ad and ask questions. If you want a professional objective perspective, have a lawyer review advertisements before you release them. More cautious friends and lawyers will be able to more easily detect statements that could be misconstrued.

Having the perspective of an outsider who cares can ensure your advertisements remain true and accurate.

If you are good at what you do, your reputation will sell your business. There is no need to lie or exaggerate. Your results demonstrate what you can do.

Follow Retention Requirements

This tip is far less obvious, though equally essential. Most businesses operate under certain document retention requirements. It is less well known that advertisements often have a retention requirement as well. Regulations on the retention of advertisements are covered under the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, Administrative Code, Title 68, Chapter VII. For example, the retention requirements for Physical Therapy advertisements is three years.

You should find out the regulations specific to your license to ensure you are following the retention requirements for all your ads.

Disclose All License Information

Professional licensees who advertise must be clear about their license in their advertisements. For example, under the Nurse Practice Act, nurses must identify the type of license they have and how that allows them to provide the services an ad promotes.

Focus on Yourself

Advertising is not politics. Do not trash your competition or say anything that could be understood as negative towards another. This is not only unprofessional across most industries, but it can also be considered libel when it is egregious enough to warrant the label.

The best way to stand out is to focus on what makes you unique and where your strengths lie. You do not need to compare yourselves to others to do this well.

Again, one of the best examples of this is the nursing industry, which has very strict regulations about this aspect of advertising. The following claims are examples of the types of advertising that should be avoided:

  • Claims to be better than a percentage of the competition; this could also be false advertising if you do not have the data to back up the claim
  • Statements indicating or implying that other nurses or facilities don’t care about their patients
  • Price comparisons with your competition

Highlight Your Specialization Only If You Are a Specialist

This is most easily applied to the different medical professions, but you should never talk about being a specialist unless you have the necessary qualifications or certifications to support the specialist label.

One of the best examples of this is the Part 1220 Illinois Dental Practice Act, which specifically states:

When words relating to specialty practice are used in an advertisement, the advertisement must not imply that the dentist offering those services is licensed as a specialist unless he holds a specialty license issued by the Division

The term special has specific connotation in most professions, so it is best to choose your words carefully so that no one mistakes what you say for something that requires a specific license before you can offer it as a service.

If you are a specialist, use the time when you are working on ads to verify that you are still properly licensed or certified to offer those services. When your office gets busy, it can be easy to let certifications and licenses slip. This provides a built-in reminder to keep your certifications and licenses current.

Always Go through This Checklist before Posting or Broadcasting Your Advertisement

This really is a reminder, but you want to make sure that your advertisements always comply with the regulations. You want your marketing efforts to make you money, not cost you money. By regularly reviewing this checklist, you are much more likely to catch potential issues.

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact an attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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