In the good old days of matchmaking magazines, when all adverts were in black and white and had box numbers instead of emails, we wrote on paper, used stamps and envelopes and waited several days or even weeks for a reply. Those organisations that have weathered the storm have considerably enhanced their businesses by the move to online dating, but what of the more traditional agencies? How have they fared against the high-tech world of laptops, smart-phones and social networks?
In Britain, the Association of British Introduction Agencies, which has its roots back in the early Eighties, does have some online dating sites on its books, but most of its patrons are the long-established face-to-face introduction agencies. The majority of these have websites of course, as they still need to attract customers, but what they offer usually involves phone calls, meetings and events, as opposed to emails, winks and video messaging.
Some agencies specialise in anonymous matching, for people who really don't want to get involved in social occasions. Others delight in arranging all kinds of activities and holidays for professional singles. Across the Room, for instance is based in Suffolk and runs events from Norfolk down to Cambridgeshire, Kent and Berkshire. They give prices for some of these (from £8.00 for Club Nights to about £45 for Dinner Dances) but don't mention how much it actually costs to join. This reluctance to make fees obvious is not necessarily taken from some sort of elite rule-book, but is perhaps a little conspicuous by its absence. You might say it's one of those "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" situations. Not all agencies, however, are at the top end of the market.
African Caribbean Partners offers a reasonably economical package with annual fees of between £200 and £450. Berkeley International, by comparison, is very much at the top end of the market, with offices in London, New York, Moscow and Cannes. They provide a high class service for professional people, and their fees, as you might expect, start at around £9,000. The Caroline Crowther Introduction Agency, like many others, is based in the South of the UK and offers to interview prospective clients in their own homes before compiling a personal profile.
So what have these companies got to offer that you can't find with the much more accessible, and let's face it - cheaper, online dating sites?
To begin with, many of these organisations have been running for several years and have built their reputations on their experience and understanding of relationships. They take time to get to know clients in great detail so the carefully chosen couples they introduce are likely to be on the same wavelength and have similar temperaments. Admittedly, the agencies do tend to target professional people, so aren't likely to offer bargain-basement deals that can swing it for some of the middle-of-the-road dating sites. There's no messing around here - this stuff isn't for the guys and dolls out on the pull on a Friday night, it's for serious people with a commitment to finding that perfect partner.
It's true that money is high on the agenda - there may be a great many individuals who would jump at the chance of hiring what is, after all, a traditional matchmaker, but who either cannot afford the luxury of a personal service, or simply do not have the time or the energy. Time, however, is a no excuse, as many agencies will happily do all the leg work to create profiles, find suitable matches and present the happy client with a ready-made soulmate. That's an over-simplification, of course, but there are scores of people who want just that - someone to find what, and who, it is that they're looking for, without having to go through the rigmarole of social niceties, parties and boring dates with people who will never, ever tick the right boxes for them.
Most agencies operate a service that would under no circumstances be classed as online dating - they don't list thousands of profiles on their websites, offer video messaging or any of the host of other tricks and gadgets that dating sites use to get people chatting. Instead they use the successful techniques of the past: social interaction and conversation. They say it's a dying art, but for the introduction agencies, it's what makes them different from all the rest.
For more information and reviews of dating agencies, check out my page on introduction agencies.
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