Achieve legitimacy for your campaign at the outset by gaining the support or at least toleration by key stakeholders for your handling of the proposed issue at stake before you take your proposal to a wider audience. When you gain key stakeholder support early, other stakeholders will be positively influenced as well. Don’t wait until later – do it upfront. It is essential for a successful campaign.
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 little support from these essential supporters. Therefore you need to gain key stakeholder support as a top priority.
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 read my article, “How to calculate the importance of your stakeholders,” for helpful advice on how to identify your key stakeholders.
Also, this 2023 article, “Knowing what stakeholders think is key to mitigating any corporate crisis,” could be useful as well.