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Ensure you are legitimate!

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

Gain legitimacy for your campaign at the outset by confirming the support of key stakeholders before you take your plans to a wider audience. This is essential to a successful campaign. Don't wait until later - do it upfront.

Legitimacy is like reputation - it is the crucial direct or indirect support provided to you by key stakeholders that demonstrates to others you have their backing. These people may have formal positions of power and also may be opinion leaders because they are influential.

Many people are familiar with the concept of legitimacy at the macro level - that society as a whole bestows legitimacy on an organization for it to be allowed to operate. Where there is a gap between society's expectations and the performance of the organization, this can lead to issues that need to be addressed. For instance, activists and community groups may consider the organization is not performing as well as it should. Social media empowers them to express their dissatisfaction. This is also called an expectation gap.

An example is the way politicians quite often will test the broad legitimacy of a proposed major change in policy by leaking their plan to the news media, social media or to influential persons to test likely public opinion before committing to it or not.

The legitimacy concept applies to communication campaigns as well, but in a different way. When planning a campaign you need to check first that you will have the support of key stakeholders - your legitimizers - the people who hold power over the success or otherwise of your campaign. Ideally they will even be your public 'champions.' It is pointless embarking on a campaign only to find you are exposed by lukewarm or little support from these essential supporters.

You should know who they are, but if you want to be systematic about identifying and prioritizing them, you can brainstorm who your main stakeholders are and then prioritize them according to key criteria that you determine beforehand. You can give a numerical weighting (A) to the individual criteria (say, each out of 10), and then a numerical weighting (B) that measures how well each stakeholder conforms to each criterion (again, you can give each stakeholder a score out of 10). Then multiply A by B to reach a numerical total for each stakeholder.

To determine the extent of their support, arrange to call or meet with them to discuss your plans before getting to the point of no return. This means you need to trust them to an extent at first. If you are not sure of their likely support, tactfully sound them out progressively, revealing your intentions gradually so you can hold back and pull out knowing you have not given away all the sensitive information that will make you vulnerable. If you don't think someone is fully supportive, listen genuinely to their concerns or reservations. Active listening shows respect to them and is likely to increase their support in return.

Obviously it is easier to win support and acquire authority by endorsements from power brokers for minor proposals. But when you are seeking to make major changes that take people out of their comfort zone, you first need to know the powerbrokers are backing you. These people may be internal or external.

An example may be when you are planning to share your plans for communicating about major corporate change. First bounce ideas around informally with key senior management and trusted internal opinion leaders who may be middle management, supervisors or respected frontline staff. The emphasis here is on 'trusted.' You need to this only with trusted contacts because you are vulnerable to their actions afterwards.

The fact that you have consulted them will help to draw their support and influence them to suggest enhancements. Even a bit of flattery might be useful about their importance to the project. Research shows that people will still respond well to you even though they can see you are flattering them.

The upshot of all this is to do your homework for a campaign by testing the likely degree of support from the most important stakeholders first so your campaign will be legitimized - it will have their stamp of approval.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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