One of the biggest challenges that businesses can face is negative media coverage. Bad publicity is a stressful and often even emotional experience--not to mention a critical communications event. The worst, and most common, mistake that companies make is to get defensive and turn a bad situation even worse.  Instead, here's a tip: take a play out of Lebron James's book.

NBA star Lebron James skillfully handled his decision to leave Cleveland last year. Although he was highly criticized at the time, the result was a win for James's public image.  

Lebron and his advisors knew that hometown fans in Ohio-along with the Cleveland press-would be extremely unhappy about him signing with the Miami Heat. Rather than wait for the barrage, Team Lebron put together a plan to focus media coverage on their positive message.  A brief play-by-play of the highlights:

Instead of subjecting himself to a media circus event, where reporters are shouting charged questions, Lebron scheduled a one-hour interview with ESPN during which he calmly and forthrightly told his side of the story.

The interview shifted focus away from unhappy fans and onto Lebron. Suddenly, the conversation was all about him--what he said, how he looked and sounded, what his next move was, what a great player he is, etc. It also didn't hurt that ad revenue from the ESPN interview was donated to Cleveland charities.

All this said and done, Lebron ranked No. 28 on the 2010 Forbes Top 100 Celebrities list for endorsement deals, has just launched his own cartoon series and is once again in the conversation for league MVP.

Granted, we can't all snag primetime TV interviews in response to public criticism. But we can control our approach to managing negative PR events, whether it is a lawsuit, an industry-wide regulatory probe, a really tough day on the Dow or simply that you have a brand perception issue.

Step 1 is to try privately articulating your side of the story to trusted advisors. With their counsel, determine if your story is compelling and easy to understand. If it is, move to tell it in a controlled way. Borrow from Lebron's playbook by crafting a prepared statement, providing an FAQ on your Web site or agreeing to an exclusive media interview that you have time to prepare for.

If you don't have a good story, you're likely better off providing a straightforward acceptance of responsibility and even an apology, when warranted. The goal is to come across as an honest leader who, while not perfect, acts with honor and dignity in even the most difficult times.