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Truth in Advertising

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Ethics Article

David Pace, MCI

Ethics Chair

July 10, 2011

Truth in Advertising

It was late. I was returning to the office after a long day in the "inspection trenches". Actually, it was raining and water was flowing down the curb and gutter just like it was in the crawl space I had just visited. My clothes were sufficiently muddy that my wife/office manager/scheduling executive/book keeper/best friend would know I had a busy day. I had braved the elements and was ready for home. I usually spend my time going to and from inspections listening to recorded interviews or seminars of various professionals. It's usually something dealing with marketing or internet technology. I was listening to a recording of a mentor of mine, Mark Hendricks. Mark is well respected in the marketing world. He made a statement on the recording that I had heard make on several other occasions. This time it stuck. He said customers will not buy your product or use your service until three things happen. They have to know you, like you and trust you. Customers want to buy their goods and services from someone they know, like, and trust. As I thought about it, this was 24 karat gold advice. This is the perfect framework for marketing an inspection business. Successful marketing is about building relationships. The principle is the same whether the person on the other end of the phone is a RealtorĀ® or a potential buyer who has been looking through the Yellow Pages. When the phone rings, the critical task is to make positive steps toward building a lasting relationship. They need to know you, like you and trust you. We will leave the first two for another occasion. For the purposes of our discussion here, I want to take a closer look at the third element, that of trust.

Building trust requires being truthful. In a life prior to becoming a home inspector, I was a project coordinator for a construction company. We primarily built concrete tilt up buildings. My boss used to say concrete structures have a tendency to become permanent, so we have to get it right the first time. One of my jobs was to make sure the project was being built in accordance with the plans and specifications. Much of our construction took place on the East Bay side of the San Francisco Bay Area. Over the years we built relationships with several of the jurisdictional building inspectors. There was a trust between the inspectors and our company. On occasion the city inspector arrived a little earlier than anticipated and we still had some "buttoning up" to in order to be fully ready for their inspection. If the items were significant they would make an effort swing by later in the day to ensure the items were completed. Sometimes a promise to complete any outstanding items prior to the concrete trucks unleashing their load was sufficient. It was a promise based on trust, built over years of working together. It was clearly understood you never, and I mean never, violate that trust. And that trust was never violated.

In the course of investigating ethics complaints, I have occasion to examine the brochures, flyers and websites of various association members from time to time. Not surprising, after a little investigation, I find the websites and marketing materials of our members, with very few exceptions, to be truthful. Is not surprising because that's what the members agreed to when becoming a member of CREIA. The Code of Ethics requires that the "Inspector's advertising, marketing, and promotion of services or qualifications shall not be fraudulent, false, deceptive, or misleading." Trust is built on a foundation of being open, transparent and truthful. There has been much discussion by the Board of Directors about "truthful resume". CREIA has always required the marketing of an inspector, including the resume, to be truthful. The first page of the CREIA website links to an article entitled "CREIA Endorses a Truthful Resume Policy". The article states in part, "CREIA endorses a Truthful Resume Policy for inspector members showing their credentials, experience and affiliations on their websites or marketing materials. This is to provide the consumer truthful information when choosing an inspector. CREIA Inspectors must adhere to CREIA's Code of Ethics and follow the CREIA Standards of Practice developed by the association." CREIA requires all marketing, regardless of what form that takes, to be truthful. Period.

One of the areas where there seems to be some confusion is in the use of the CREIA name and CREIA logo. Both the CREIA name and the CREIA logo are service marks. The United States Government defines a service mark as "any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce, to identify and distinguish the services of one provider from the services provided by others, and to indicate the source of the services." The CREIA name and CREIA logo are used to distinguish our association from other associations and the services provided by our members from the services provided by other inspectors. There is of clear value and benefit to be associated with the CREIA name and qualified to use the CREIA logo. The use of the CREIA logo is governed by our by-laws. Section 2.04 of the CREIA by-laws states, "Certified CREIA inspectors and Master CREIA inspectors in good standing are entitled to utilize the appropriate CREIA logo for that class of membership." A CREIA member who misuses the CREIA logo will suffer the consequences as outlined in the Code of Ethics. A Candidate member who uses the CCI, MCI or CNCS logo will have a written reprimand placed in candidate's file. On a second offence the penalty is six (6) months "member not in good standing "status and loss of all privileges and a written reprimand placed in candidate's file. If a CCI member uses the MCI or CNSC logo they will be given three (3) months "member not in good standing" status and loss of all privileges and a written reprimand placed in member's file. On the second offense the penalty is six (6) months "member not in good standing" status and loss of all privileges and a written reprimand placed in member's file. What does it mean for an inspector to be "not in good standing"? A formal letter from the Ethics Committee is sent to the member. The letter indicates for the period of three or six months, as appropriate, the member is directed to cease using the CREIA logo or presenting themselves as a CREIA qualified Inspector. This includes any reference to CREIA qualifications or the using the CREIA name or logo on business cards, letterhead, website and any other marketing benefits related to CREIA. They will be allowed to participate in CREIA chapter meetings and educational activities. A copy of the letter is forwarded to CREIA for inclusion in their permanent file.

CREIA expects its members advertising to be truthful. It is how the community comes to trust the association, its reputation and membership. CREIA will vigorously protect its name and logo. In order to do so we need to know when misuse occurs. Section IIIe of the Code of Ethics states, "Inspectors shall report substantial and willful violations of this Code to CREIA." If you know of a misuse of the CREIA name or logo or any other violation of the Code of Ethics it is your responsibility, as a member, to report it to CREIA.

About the author:

David Pace holds the Master CREIA Inspector designation. He is a member of the Golden Gate chapter and has preformed over 7,000 paid inspections since becoming an inspector in 1993. Dave is a past chapter president and vice-president of the Golden Gate Chapter. He is currently a State Director and Chairman of the Ethics Committee.


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