Get New Clients – Advertise!!! Top 5 Advertising Rules for Licensed Professionals

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Everyone wants more clients and what better way than to advertise on the internet, radio, TV, and even newspapers. Before you invest in designing ads and spend money on placement fees, first review the statute and rules governing your profession. You don’t want the thrill of having new clients dampened by a notice from Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation that your new advertisements violate your professional rules.

Professions licensed by the IDFPR are each governed by a licensing act setting forth required educational and other qualifications, criteria for obtaining and maintaining the license, and professional and ethical expectations for the profession. Many licensing acts include similar provisions related to advertising. Here are the top 5 rules to follow for licensed professionals in Illinois.

Rule 1: Don’t Lie

A common reason for discipline found in many acts, including the Public Accounting Act for CPAs, is:

Solicitation of professional services by using false or misleading advertising.

This seems like common sense, but most people don’t have the objectivity needed to review their own ads. Ask a lawyer or even a very cautious friend to review any potential advertisement. If your friend says, “are you sure that statement is always true?”, then call a lawyer or rewrite the ad. If you are an outstanding professional, your reputation will speak for itself and there is no need for misleading or overzealous statements.

Rule 2: Save that Ad

Many licensing acts have retention requirements for advertisements. Here is an example from the rules governing veterinarians:

If an advertisement is communicated to the public over television or radio, it shall be prerecorded and approved for broadcast by the licensee, and a recording of the actual transmission, including videotape, shall be retained by the licensee for a period of at least 5 years.

Dentists are under a similar rule, although their retention requirement is three years instead of five. This is why it is important to know your own profession’s rules.

Rule 3: No Used Car Ads

The Nurse Practice Act discusses how one should conduct themselves in an advertisement:

Advertising shall contain all information necessary to make the communication informative and not misleading. Advertising shall identify the type of license held by the licensee whose services are being promoted. The form of advertising shall be designed to communicate information to the public in a direct, dignified and readily comprehensible manner.

In addition to not misleading consumers, nurses must also identify the type of license they have regarding the services being promoted. There is also a generic reference to the ads being dignified; what does that mean? All professions have a board that reviews complaints about licensees. In this case the Board of Nursing would not want to see advertisements that bring disrespect and public concern to the profession.

Rule 4: Talk Yourself Up, Don’t Put Others Down

If you are taking the time to read this, then you are likely a highly skilled professional looking to do the right thing. When advertising, focus on your strengths and do not try to showcase the weaknesses of your peers or otherwise compare yourself to your competitors.

The law regarding advanced practice nurses is very specific about advertising:

It is unlawful for a person licensed under this Act to use claims of superior quality of care to entice the public. It shall be unlawful to advertise fee comparisons of available services with those of other licensed persons.

Avoid using any of the following if you are an APN — these are egregious examples, provided mostly for your amusement:

“I am better than 99% of the nurses.”

“Other nurses don’t care about you, we do.”

“Nurse Bob charges $100 for a strep test, we charge $99.99.”

“We checked with 5 other nurses in the area, we will beat any of their prices by 50%.”

Rule 5: Only Say You are Special if You are Really a Specialist

The administrative rules for dentists lay out very detailed instructions on how and when you can claim you are a specialist.

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. Words that cannot be used by a dentist unless licensed in that specialty are Endodontist, Pedodontist, Pediatric Dentist, Periodontist, Prosthodontist, Orthodontist, Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologist, or Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon. Terms such as “Specialist”, “Practice Limited To” or “Limited To Specialty Of”, with the name of the branch of dentistry practiced as a specialty, (endodontics, periodontics (pediatric dentistry), periodontics, prosthodontics, orthodontics, oral and maxillofacial radiology and oral and maxillofacial surgery) shall be prima facie evidence that such dentist is holding himself out to the public as a specialist. A general dentist who advertises, in any media, using words or phrases customarily used by a specialist, except those prohibited above, but who does not hold a specialty license, shall include in the advertisement a prominent disclaimer that he or she is licensed only as a general dentist.

In general, only use the term “specialist” if you have an advanced degree or certification and after you’ve confirmed that your profession allows such a claim.

Jordan Matyas

Jordan Matyas

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Jordan Matyas is a lawyer, lobbyist, and Founder of 1818 Legal, an Illinois professional licensing defense law firm he created in 2014. With more than 18 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including professional license defense, administrative law, land use and zoning, and state, local, and municipal law.

Jordan received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois — Chicago School of Law and is a member of the Illinois Bar Association.