By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven® 

3 Unexpected Benefits of Asking Smart Questions and Being Curious for PR Pros

  • “I always say in my career I’ve kept my reporter’s license to ask questions,” says Michael Bourque, a former newspaper reporter who now leads the insurance company MEMIC. “The truth is, all of us have the license to ask questions. To me, I think it’s been the single most important thing in my career.”
  • Asking questions is powerful because it honors the other person by assuming they can share valuable information with you. 
  • Rather than being afraid to explore new technology, dive in and ask questions. Be willing to explore, because you just might find a new way to reach your audience or build your brand.

Michael Bourque never thought he’d work for an insurance company, let alone become the president and CEO of one.

After all, he started his career as an award-winning newspaper journalist in Maine and Alaska. He recalls looking around the newsroom and noticing none of the veteran reporters seemed happy.

That’s when he started thinking about his long-term career plans. What could he do with his strong writing and communication skills?

Mike entered the world of PR and marketing in 1993 as a senior editor for the Association of Community Colleges. Shortly thereafter, he joined MEMIC, a workers’ compensation insurer, where he worked his way up and now serves as the president and CEO.

So how did he get there?

“I always say in my career I’ve kept my reporter’s license to ask questions,” he says. “The truth is, all of us have the license to ask questions. To me, I think it’s been the single most important thing in my career.”

On episode 78 of The PR Maven® podcast, I spoke with Mike about the importance of asking questions and how it can benefit your career.

How asking questions will help your career

When new employees join MEMIC, Mike and his senior management team meet with them, and he always offers this wise piece of advice: Be curious.

Being curious and asking questions helps you gain knowledge and continue to learn, but it has a few more unexpected benefits that Mike discusses.

1. You deepen network connections

One of the most important facets of the PR and marketing world is creating meaningful network connections, and a great way to do that is by asking questions.

When you ask your connections questions, you not only pick up new information, but you also show a sense of respect. You’re showing them you trust and value their expertise and insight.

“You honor the other person by assuming they know something of value to you,” Mike says. “Then, of course, you listen to their answer, but that exchange is incredibly valuable.”

2. You explore new, innovative ways to reach your audience

When social media channels like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter emerged, Mike was MEMIC’s senior vice president of external affairs, which meant he led the company’s marketing efforts.

Rather than being afraid of these new channels, he was curious and started asking questions. What’s LinkedIn? How are companies using it? What’s a TweetDeck? How will it help me?

“I felt it was an opportunity for our company, at the time, to be one of the first insurers that was really paying much attention to [these channels],” he says.

These platforms provided him a chance to engage with the company’s audience and build connections with other organizations, industry groups and national insurance associations.

“I think the willingness to explore is probably one of the most important bits of advice I’d give,” he says.

3. You find new ways to generate excitement around your brand

MEMIC isn’t your typical insurance company, and that’s worked well for them.

Rather than strictly hiring insurance professionals, the company employs dozens of safety professionals. These folks are experts in their fields. They go out into the community and provide safety trainings and highlight the importance of workers’ compensation insurance.

Mike recognized untapped potential here. “I had a sense this content was sort of bottled up in these people, these wonderful characters,” he says.

He asked: How can we share this information with our audience?

He used The Marshall Plan® process to create and launch the MEMIC Safety Experts podcast. Every two weeks, host Peter Koch interviews experts on various topics.

“We have lots of content I don’t think people expect insurance companies to have,” Mike says. “Nobody goes to an insurance company to feel like they’re going to learn something.”

Topics of conversation on the podcast have included caring for loved ones with dementia, driving safely in winter weather and addressing harassment in the workplace.

“There are some topics that are interesting to people who aren’t necessarily safety people,” Mike says. “It continues a cycle of interest and excitement you can create from these kinds of conversations.”

Ultimately, when you ask questions, you’ll continue to learn, but you’ll also discover other unexpected benefits that’ll help you advance in your career.

This is based on an episode of The PR Maven® Podcast, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall. Weekly interviews feature industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding. Subscribe through AppleSpotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

  • Thank you for the article! Asking questions can also help you in your life in general. I mean, this simple task is often overlooked. We end up doing things without really knowing why we do them. Take using Facebook for example. We probably started facebooking because we were curious to see what’s all the hype all about 10 years ago. But we’ve stayed using it not really knowing why. If you stop and ask yourself: “Why I’m using this platform that only corrupts my life?” We can stay away from destructive behavior.