Back in the 30’s and 40’s professional engineering services relied on their work record, references, and old fashioned honor to bring in new customers. Advertising in any form was considered “undignified” and reserved for commercial products like Cracker Jacks and Red Rider BB guns. Professional services in general were expected to garner business via their merits, qualifications, etc. because these services require a way of life to provide. Marketing was taboo.
Enter the 60’s and 70’s when society starting to think about fairness. The US government said (in so many words), “Hey! Professional services can advertise like the rest of us, and to restrict this right is unconstitutional.” This movement continued when the Supreme Court ruled that professional engineers could even use pricing in their advertising. Gasp!
In the 80’s and 90’s it’s apparent some professional services have taken full advantage of new freedoms. Take law for instance. Some over-the-top firms such as Jim “the hammer” Shapiro actually got caught in the 90’s for false advertising and malpractice. Some attorneys certainly explored the boundaries of advertising ethics, and after the turn of the century, State governments stepped in to revise how lawyers could advertise. For example, NY State law now prohibits lawyers from using celebrities in their ads, having pop-up ads on their websites, or using catchy nicknames (no more “the hammer” for Jim Shapiro).
Professional engineers shouldn’t explore theses ethical boundaries nor do they need to. Our advice for digital marketing in this area is simple. State your qualifications. If you get permission, show examples of your work. Be specific about the engineering services you provide. If you’re brave, discuss price points. Most importantly, do NOT make claims you cannot back up. You also should become real comfortable with the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) Code of Ethics, because the hills have eyes.
Don’t be hesitant. Get out there on the Web and advertise your service. Relax and good luck.