In the Computer Dating Game, Room for a Coach

A nice piece in Sunday’s New York Times about the growing industry for online dating coaches, profile writers and photographers. I was fortunate enough to have been mentioned. A big shout out to my client, Marianne, for agreeing to be interviewed for this article.

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In the Computer Dating Game, Room for a Coach

March 11, 2007

NOT getting any online dates? Maybe it’s time for an online makeover.

Businesses like Dating-Profile.com, ProfileHelper.com and E-Cyrano.com say they will help turn a stale personal profile for dating Web sites into eloquent and catchy advertisements, writing the words for you. They will even help clients sift through prospective dates and start an initial e-mail conversation. Depending on the company and the services used, prices may range from $39 to $2,000.

Other companies, like LookBetterOnline.com and SingleShots.com, sell professional photo shoots and retouching of existing pictures for people to post online.

“As online dating has gotten more popular, the more people have to do to get attention,” said Mindy Stricke, owner of SingleShots.com, a New York business that has produced 1,000 profile portraits, at prices from $130 to $300. “There’s a lot of anxiety around this purchase because there’s no guarantees. But a lot of people, especially in New York, are willing to go the extra mile.”

Dating makeovers are hardly new. High-end offline dating services have long provided hairstyle and clothing renovations, as well as other help. But the latest twist underscores the frustration felt by some of the 40 million people using Internet matchmaking sites, said Mark Brooks, who follows the industry and author of the blog OnlinePersonalsWatch.com.

“The promise of Internet dating is you plug in your profile and you send a few e-mails and you have got a date,” Mr. Brooks said. “It’s not as easy as that.”

Jim West, 43, a divorced engineer from Tatamy, Pa., struggled to get beyond the first “hello” e-mail when he started online dating. Sure, he got some dates, but with the wrong people, he said. So after six months, Mr. West paid $49 for a critique from Eric Resnick, owner of ProfileHelper.com, based in Orlando, Fla. (The price of that service is now $69.)

“I felt like he was my sixth-grade English teacher,” Mr. West said. “He taught me how to write a good essay.” Some of Mr. Resnick’s advice: when sending e-mail messages to women, he should ask them questions about their profiles so they are more inclined to reply. Mr. Resnick also told Mr. West that his profile did not stand out because it used very general terms, with Mr. West describing himself as “very laid back” and “happy.”

Mr. Resnick said: “Why say you are laid back when you can talk about the family barbecue that gives that air of laid back? Why say you’re adventurous when you can talk about your trip to the Great Wall of China?”

In the multiple-choice section of his profile about the woman he was seeking, Mr. West had listed a specific hair color, a specific eye color and requested that his date share his Moravian religious faith.

Mr. Resnick suggested that he be less specific. Three months later, Mr. West met a woman whom he has now been dating for more than six months. And she is also of the Moravian faith, though she responded after he removed that stipulation in his profile.

Marianne Kost, a divorced mother in New York, ran a bigger tab. She paid $2,000 for a profile, photographs and coaching from Evan Marc Katz, owner of two coaching services based in Los Angeles, EvanMarcKatz.com and E-Cyrano.com. Ms. Kost was new to online dating, so Mr. Katz also helped her decide which dating service to use and which men to meet.

When Ms. Kost wrote her personal essay, Mr. Katz pushed her to tell specific stories, such as, “I came face-to-face with a bull moose during rutting season,” and, “I occasionally smear a glob of peanut butter on my dog’s nose, just for fun.” Ms. Kost said she had many responses when her profile went online at Match.com.

Ms. Kost, 49, said Mr. Katz was of much help. “It was wonderful for my ego, and I felt I had a pick of the cream of the crop. I ended up having so much interesting stuff in my profile that I had a lot to talk about and write about in e-mails.”

Ms. Kost said she did not meet many men in person, because Mr. Katz had advised her to go through a long screening process with e-mail and phone conversations before an actual date. After three months, Ms. Kost met Stephen Micallef, who, like her, is an engineer. She immediately liked how he spoke of his daughters. “I liked his values,” Ms. Kost said. “He seemed emotionally mature and very open.”

Mr. Micallef, 47, liked the professional photographs of Ms. Kost. And he liked the way her profile captured her essence with details, like how she raced a storm on a sailboat and collected strawberries to make jam. “This was well written. There was thought in it,” he said. “I found her profile to be authentic, sincere and honest, and it was proven out.”

They have dated for eight months and plan to marry.

Mr. Katz said his company has helped thousands of people since it began five years ago. It offers several packages, starting at $49 for a 20-minute consultation and a line-by-line critique of a profile. For $129 to $199, people fill out a questionnaire and spend a half-hour on the phone with a freelance writer, who writes two essays for them. For $1,500, the company interviews clients, writes their profiles, takes professional photographs and coaches them via phone and e-mail about online dating. For $1,000 a month, he coaches them about dating and relationships in general.

But can writing dating profiles for people mask their real personality, giving, for instance, a positive, exciting and more eloquent flair to someone who may be genuinely negative, boring and inarticulate? No, Mr. Katz said. Rather, he said, he simply presents people in their best light.

He compared the process to the extra effort people make on their wedding day. “You want to present yourself at your best,” he said.

JENNY CARGILE, 37, of Denver, who uses Match.com, does not buy into that theory. She said she would never hire someone to improve her dating profile because a more polished profile would not reflect who she truly is. “I’m not a person who is put together or always knows the right thing to say,” she said. “I would feel like if I went out on a date with someone, I would have to be what they read instead of myself.”

Ms. Cargile also said that many people who use online dating services tended to be fairly careless about how they present themselves. She said many profiles she sees on Match.com use blurry or outdated photographs, contain essays riddled with typographical and grammatical errors and rely on general descriptions, like “athletic” or “adventurous.”

Match.com has begun offering free profile and photo tips via an online video with Jay Manuel, of the television show “America’s Next Top Model.” The company also sells services for $2 to $6 a month that offer advice on dating and ways to make profiles and photographs stand out.

Jim Safka, chief executive of Match.com, based in Dallas, says online dating is like being on stage and being viewed by thousands of people. “Wouldn’t you spend some time backstage getting ready?” he asked.

In the Dallas market, Match.com is testing a service called “Match Platinum,” in which professional matchmakers interview clients, coach them on appearance and style and then sift through Match.com’s database of 15 million members to find a compatible date. “We’ve had a tremendous response to it,” said Deborah Robertson, a matchmaker for Match Platinum. Clients pay $500 to $2,000, depending on the level of service.

Such levels of spending and coaching concern at least one dating expert.

“Dating is like a soufflé — it requires a bit of lightness,” said Joy Browne, host of a syndicated radio talk show and author of the recent book “Dating Disasters and How to Avoid Them.” “When you’re forking out thousands of dollars, you’re going to expect a huge return on your investment. That’s not the attitude you should have going into dating.”

But for Ms. Kost, the services were well worth the money. “I felt confident with people,” she said. “It was like I didn’t need to sell myself to these people. They were already sold.”

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