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Former Reporter and PR Pro Uses Skills as Insurance Executive
Today’s Monday Maine Maven is MEMIC Senior Vice President for External Affairs Michael Bourque.
Michael is a former president of the Maine Public Relations Council. He is involved in several organizations as a board member or volunteer. Michael is currently president of the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce. He lives in Portland with his wife, Melissa, and their two children.
Based in Portland, ME, MEMIC is Maine’s largest and leading workers’ compensation insurer, providing coverage to more than 18,000 employers and their estimated 200,000 employees.
MEMIC is the parent company of The MEMIC Group which is licensed to write workers’ comp insurance in nearly every state in the U.S. The company has offices in Portland, Maine; Manchester, NH; Glastonbury, CT; Albany, NY; and Weehawken, NJ.
1. Michael, you received the Edward L. Bernays Award from the Maine Public Relations Council several years ago. How has your public relations background helped you in your career with MEMIC?
Whenever I describe my career trajectory, I almost always start by saying, “I never imagined I would be working as an insurance company executive.” That remains true today but I just passed my 17th anniversary at MEMIC, so I suppose it’s time to stop being surprised about it.
My degree is in journalism which led me, after a little less than five years as a reporter, to my seeking work in the public relations field.
The building blocks of that work remain part of the skill set I use every day as the senior vice president for external affairs at MEMIC. The fundamentals of good writing, an inquisitive bent, and the ability to meet a deadline are inherent to all that I do.
In addition, the ability to be able to quickly and succinctly break down and communicate complex topics is something I do fairly well. I trace that ability directly to my days as a reporter. In those days, I might have been describing a zoning ordinance or a bankruptcy case and now I might be trying to describe how Maine defines an independent contractor for the purposes of workers’ compensation.
I’ve always been a systems thinker and that has proven helpful to me in my work as a PR professional. Thinking systemically forces a more strategic view of issues. My work to achieve my APR helped me to solidify that framework.
As my job responsibilities have grown at MEMIC, I find myself applying those skills directly in nearly every task.
2. How has social media changed the way you do your job?
It has changed some of what I do and how I think, but fundamentally, I think of it as another channel of communication. Of course, it can be much more than that but truthfully I think social just tightens the feedback loops in communication.
It’s exciting and scary all at once. Sure, we can put out good news and ideas about our company in a moment’s notice but our readers and customers and anyone, really, can talk back to us just as quickly.
My fear is that social media will scare some organizations to hide from it because of the downside but that’s shortsighted in my opinion. The conversations that it is starting between organizations and their various audiences are going to change the way business is done in the future. Better that we all understand this and begin to learn by doing.
3. You have a busy family life in Maine and obviously you love the state of Maine. What’s your feeling about Maine’s business climate and how the quality of life impacts Maine’s businesses?
I do, indeed, have a fairly busy life but I love it and I’m not sure I could enjoy quite the same life anywhere else in the country. My wife and I came home to Maine from Washington, DC, a little more than 17 years ago because we love this place. Now, I want to help others love it, too.
There is no question that Maine’s business climate can be difficult, but the truth is, no matter where you go, you hear that business is tough.
I do believe that we need to continue to remove barriers but at the same time, I think we spend far too much energy beating ourselves up. Let’s stop talking so much about what we aren’t or where we fall short and let’s start selling that Maine brand.
I think we are poised to make some good things happen here. As a special place to live, we need to continue to sell the fact that technology can allow a person to do business from Maine to anywhere. That, combined with our emerging improvements in our transportation hubs (train and more convenient air travel), should help us to continue to attract people and businesses to our special place.