Joan Parker Says Goodbye to De Beers

Nearly 30 years of working for variations of the same company is a long time, and it can’t be easy saying good-bye, but that’s just what Joan Parker is doing as she resigns from De Beers LV.

For the last three years, Parker has been the public relations director for De Beers LV, the retail chain half-owned by the De Beers Group (and technically a separate company). Before that, she spent over 25 years promoting diamonds for De Beers as head of the Diamond Information Center.

“I want another challenge,” she says. “I’ve done what I set out to do [at De Beers LV]—establish it as a brand—and now I need to move on to something new.” Parker plans to write a book about her industry experiences, and “will announce what I’m doing” later on.

After heading her own p.r. agency, in 1977 Parker joined the Diamond Information Center, which was then a part of ad agency N.W. Ayer.

“The DIC was a very sleepy organization then,” she says. “They were doing things like talking to women’s groups.” Parker helped build, as she says “a p.r. operation from scratch,” and began the trend of putting diamonds on celebrities at events like awards shows.

One of the early successes came after tennis star Chris Evert dropped her bracelet at a tennis match. Soon DIC dubbed the bracelet the “tennis bracelet,” and it became a phenomenon—and the term still sticks to this day.

Eventually Parker was named director of public relations for all of N.W. Ayer’s accounts, including the U.S. Army, Dupont, and JC Penney. But at least half of her time was always spent on diamonds. “I became so entranced with the diamond world, most of my energy and interest went into that side,” she says.

Among the things she’s proudest of is giving many well-established industry p.r. people their start, including Linda Buckley, current spokeswoman for Tiffany, and Lynn Ramsey, former head of the Jewelry Information Center.

Parker also put out a number of public relations fires—including attempts to link diamonds with apartheid and, later, with wars in Africa (“conflict diamonds”). And she weathered the storm when, after 50 years, De Beers shifted its account from N.W. Ayer to J. Walter Thompson. Ayer honchos decided—wrongly, she says—that Parker was behind the move, and they locked her out of her office. She eventually moved, with most of the rest of the account, to JWT.

But there were also good, and occasionally wild, times. “I remember the wonderful trips. Because we had to meet the client off-site, we went to Mexico, Bermuda, and Canada. We worked hard and played hard. We had a rule—no one could talk business after 8 at night and if you did you had to chug [your drink]. So people would try and trick each other into saying ‘diamonds.’ I used to love to dance on tables—those were really fun times.”