How She’s Managing: Jewelry Public Relations Veteran Duvall O’Steen

Every Thursday during the pandemic, we’re checking in on members of the jewelry trade in an attempt to glean shareable tips and tricks for doing business—and living as well as possible—during the COVID-19 crisis.

Today we hear from Duvall O’Steen, a veteran jewelry publicist based in New York City. 

JCK: Hi, Duvall! Where have you been living throughout the pandemic?

Duvall O’Steen: I’m in Murray Hill in New York City, but for the first few months of the pandemic, I ended up in Columbus, Ohio. We drove to visit my boyfriend’s mother the day before New York City shut down. Then we just stayed put. For four and a half months! I lived out of a suitcase from mid-March through Aug. 1. I felt like burning those few clothes when I finally got home!

But in reality, it was a blessing for us to be there for many reasons. We were able to help his family out with the caretaking of his elderly mom, and I got to spend some quarantine time with a loving four-legged friend named Annie. Lucky me!

How are you managing life in the pandemic?

The first few months were rough. I lost a few clients, and the remaining loyal clients cut their budgets significantly. Plus, being away from my home for so long was a challenge. But I have worked from home for quite some time now, so that was nothing new. I actually think the opportunity to rethink communications for the brands that stayed with me was really a gift. It was a chance to show some compassion and craft sensitive stories to make sure we were putting out uplifting messages during such a dark time.

In my other “life” as an actor, I was able to keep my creativity alive. I took part in many fun challenges from casting directors, writing original material to self-tape at home during quarantine. And my weekly acting class resumed on Zoom, completely saving my sanity!

How has COVID changed or altered your business/work life? 

Losing those few clients early on was tough, but oddly enough, things have really turned around. Since Labor Day, I have been busier than ever. I’m working with several fantastic new clients! On a personal level, I’m particularly grateful, as the income has helped me to pay off the pandemic debt. Professionally, as a jewelry publicist and communications strategist, I now have more to offer my media contacts, because there’s quite a breadth of diverse styles and price points among my clients now. If anything, I’m working harder than ever. And instead of complaining about it, I just feel grateful, grateful, grateful.

Duvall cross country
O’Steen and her boyfriend drove a friend’s mother who has health issues from New York City to Los Angeles to reunite her with her family 

Have there been any silver linings during this tricky time for you?

Actually, yes! I got an all-expenses-paid cross-country road trip!  True story. A very dear friend’s high-risk 78-year-old mother was alone in New York City for the first few months of quarantine, missing meaningful events with her family in Los Angeles. After spending Passover/Easter, Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day by herself, she was determined to get to L.A., but her doctor forbid her to fly because of her cardiac and pulmonary issues. Our friend jokingly asked us if we’d toss her in the back seat and drive her across the country. Shortly thereafter, that joke inspired a real discussion.

We started to get creative, thinking, “How can we help out here?” As it turns out, we had access to a family member’s RV, and we ended up driving Miss Robin from New York to Los Angeles in an RV in five days with almost no contact with anyone. We paid for gas at the pump, cooked groceries in the RV to avoid restaurants, and took our bathroom with us as we went. It was crazy and actually fun!

Duvall cross country
O’Steen and her boyfriend taking in the sites on their cross-country trip

We all three got tested before and after, so we know for a fact that we arrived there safely. We spent a week or so off the road in Los Angeles with our friend, but then took our time heading back to our quarantine base in Ohio. Across 10 days, we did outdoor socially distant activities like trekking in Bryce Canyon and Red Canyon in Utah and then visited Arches National Park [also in Utah]. We even checked zip-lining off the bucket list in Denver. It was so refreshing after the first three months of quarantine. It was more than a silver lining—it was the trip of a lifetime!

And to see Miss Robin hug her four-year-old twin grandsons when we arrived was a beautiful moment that we will never forget. I think we all cried. She is still there and missing New York City but relieved to be able to spend this quality time with her daughter, her son, and those two loving little fans of hers.

Duvall acting class
O’Steen during her weekly Zoom acting class

What lessons would you say the pandemic has taught you—in business or as a person in the world? 

To count my blessings! Being a performing artist (when I am not promoting jewelry), I’m an empath. I feel the tremendous weight of the darkness in difficult times. What saves me every time I get overly morose or depressed is to stop and focus on gratitude. Instead of looking at what’s wrong, I shift my attention to what is right.

At the risk of sounding overly Pollyanna-ish, what I realized this year is that if I look for the good, I can always find it. And anything that brings a smile to my heart is good for me and for everyone I come into contact with. Positivity is contagious. So, it’s a win-win!

In what ways has the pandemic changed the jewelry PR game?

There is much more of a focus now on digital communications—social media, blogs, webinars, etc. There’s also been a real shift toward meaningful content. As opposed to constantly pitching product, I am now crafting brand legacy stories, trying to get my clients on webinars, podcasts, or Instagram Live interviews, and helping with their social media strategies. I happen to love writing, so for me, the shift to content creation is thrilling!

What have you been doing to relax and have fun during this time?

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but my boyfriend and I have a new Wii sports addiction. It’s great because it is not sedentary! We get up on our feet to bowl or play tennis or golf. It started when we were at his mom’s in Ohio. We knew that the games would be good for her, given her health conditions. But the competitive streak in us still has us battling it out three or four times a week in our tiny Murray Hill apartment.

Have any book/podcast/TV/movie recommendations?

Anyone who hasn’t watched Schitt’s Creek, drop everything now and binge. The quirky comedy is a salve to heal the wounds of our souls from this past year. Laughter is truly the best medicine! Oh, and in that vein, I laughed out loud more than ever when I watched Episodes. Both are on Netflix. And most recently, JCK’s Rob Bates’ newly published novel, A Murder Is Forever, has helped me actually enjoy my New Year’s resolution to limit my screen time. It’s a good read!

Top: Duvall O’Steen with Annie the dog during her quarantine stay in Ohio in 2020 (all photos courtesy of Duvall O’Steen)

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JCK Senior Editor

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