Friday, February 15, 2008

How To Make Money With Wedding Proposals

Proposals are becoming increasingly elaborate and expensive, with proposal planners, proposal photographers and others getting into the act of helping men — and it is still overwhelmingly men who do the asking — create an over-the-top presentation.

This goes along with the growing tendency to turn every experience surrounding the marriage ritual into a spectacle, from rehearsal dinners to the ceremony itself.

“Weddings are culturally valorized as incredibly significant events in our lives,” said Cele Otnes, professor of marketing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and co-author of “Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding” (University of California Press, 2003). “Upping the ante gives it legitimacy.”

Jenifour Jones, founder of Go Get It Events, said that during her busiest time, she can plan three or four proposals a week.

For one, she staged a fake show, which the bride-to-be assumed was real. The concierge of a hotel was in on it, as was a comedy troupe and 150 actors playing audience members.

When the time came to kiss the frog, the girlfriend was “chosen” to come on stage and, unbeknownst to her, her boyfriend was smuggled backstage. He changed into a frog suit and when she kissed him, he took off the costume and presented the ring, while the audience waved lanterns.

The average cost of her proposals is $5,000 to $15,000, Ms. Jones said, but something like the frog play can run more.

Ms. Jones’s typical client is in his 30s or 40s, and, she said, she has helped same-sex couples, too.

“People are older, they’re waiting longer, they have more disposable income,” Ms. Winikka said.

Richard Heyderman, who hired Ms. Jones to help him, is 41, and getting married for the second time on Valentine’s Day.

He knew that his fiancée, Tara Pokotilow, a teacher, loves the book “Madeline” by Ludwig Bemelmans. So with Ms. Jones’s help, he rewrote the story as “Tara’s Greatest Adventure.”

“I had someone drop a clue at her door,” said Mr. Heyderman, who is president and chief executive of Multi Dimensional Resources. Then a character dressed as Madeline showed up.

During Ms. Pokotilow’s surprise day out, which included a shopping trip, a spa treatment and serenading with one of her favorite Broadway songs, she was given pages of the book, not knowing exactly what was going on.

The coup de grâce was when she was handed a first edition of “Madeline” with a love note inside “written by me,” Mr. Heyderman said — and taken on a helicopter ride to a sculpture garden in New Jersey, where he proposed.

Mr. Heyderman did not want to reveal how much he paid for the day, though he did confide that some of his friends later told him, “Rich you made our lives impossible, because how do we top that?”

Indeed, Ms. Winikka said one appeal of such proposals is the guy “wants bragging rights with his friends.”

Does the woman like it as much? Elaine Pursey of Berkshire, England, whose husband planned a day that culminated in a private proposal on the Wollman Rink in Central Park in Manhattan, loved it.

“He had been secretly taking skating lessons for months,” she said.

I can’t help being a little cynical about some of this because it seems to be one more effort by the $70 billion dollar wedding industry to get a piece of the pie, or wedding cake, as it were.

But Ms. Otnes said it was not clear which came first — the entrepreneurs or the grooms-to-be — or even if it stems from men or women.

She does see a few factors at play.

“There is an increasing fetishizing of luxury,” she said. In addition, wedding movies like “Runaway Bride,” or the newly released “27 Dresses,” magnify everything.

Proposal photographers are also an option. Terry Gruber, owner of Gruber Photographers in Manhattan, said he has done about 15 such shots and charges $750 for each one. But surreptitiously shooting the moment of asking without the woman knowing is not always the best idea, Mr. Gruber said.

“You don’t want the bride to think its creepy,” he said. It’s better to come up with a pretext, like ‘my mom wants pictures of you and me,’ ” he said. Then, when the photographer is snapping away, the man pops the question.

The marriage proposal is as ritualized as any tribal custom. A paper published last year in the journal Sex Roles found that people — or at least the 2,174 university students in the Midwest whom the researchers surveyed — associated more conventional proposals with stronger relationships.

If the hypothetical proposal adhered to a traditional script — the man asking the woman’s father first; the man asking the woman; the man getting down on one knee and giving a diamond ring — then the students thought that the relationship would be stronger, said Alicia D. Cast, associate professor of sociology at Iowa State University and a co-author of the study.

Nontraditional would be if the woman asked the man, there was no ring, a plain band or an alternative gem like a ruby or sapphire.

There was no statistical difference in answers between men and women.

This research helps demonstrate that participants in a ritual like a proposal want to convey a certain message, creating “in the minds of others that we are a legitimate and serious couple,” Ms. Cast said.

Often those who want elaborate proposals are entering their second marriage, perhaps in the hope that if they start this one right, it will last.

Both Ms. Pursey and her husband had been married before. How did the ice rink proposal compare with her first?

“I can’t remember it,” she said.

More Resources On Making Money With Weddings:

Start Your Own Wedding Consultant Business: Your Step-By-Step Guide to Success

Wedding Vendor Handbook: Get to the Top and Stay There

How to Start a Home-Based Event Planning Business