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'And then, you get down on one knee ...'

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One happy couple, with one surprised bride, celebrates their engagement at the Tiffany & Co. in New York City. Proposal planning provided by Mike Bloomberg, the "Romance CEO." (Photo by Sarah Small; courtesy of An Exclusive Engagement)

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(Photo by Sarah Small; courtesy of An Exclusive Engagement)

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful maiden whose boyfriend asked her to marry him by placing the diamond engagement ring in a Wendy’s Frosty. Alas, when sipping the malted, she swallowed the ring.

Not exactly a fairy-tale proposal. Too bad it was a reality for Kaitlin Whipple.

After two days of prunes and high-fiber breakfast cereal, Whipple got that ring where it belonged—on her finger. But had her fiancé Reed Harris met with a wedding proposal consultant, his name might have gone down in the storybooks, not the tabloids.

With the pressures to make marriage proposals ever more unique, proposal planners have found a growing business in helping men (who still overwhelmingly do the asking) take their proposals from pathetic to perfect. Forget the Jumbotron and skywriting; these planners craft proposals that they describe as “tailor-made” to the couple.

Want to grant your Hollywood-loving bride-to-be her own paparazzi-filled adventure, surrounded by adoring “fans,” bodyguards and photographers? Not a problem. Re-enact her favorite scene of the film “Sleepless in Seattle,” atop the Empire State Building? Done. Tie in her love for Dr. Phil, Krispy Kreme doughnuts or “The Biggest Loser” TV show? Piece of cake.

Anne Chertoff, senior editor for Brides.com, says that over the past four years, she’s heard countless stories of men working with consultants to plan elaborate toasts, dinners--even a plan to hang a billboard with the words “Will you marry me?” from a Manhattan building.

“When it comes to the wedding, it’s all about the bride,” says Chertoff. But the proposal is the future groom’s chance to shine. “He knows she’s going to tell the story a million times—whether on her blog, Facebook page, their personal wedding Web site, to vendors. There are so many ways to retell the story now, you don’t want to look like a schmuck.”

Michael Bloomberg, a Dallas proposal planner and self-proclaimed “Romance CEO,” says women do two things upon hearing about an engagement: First, they want see the ring. “And the very next question is, ‘How’d he ask?’” he says. “They want to hear the story, and you owe her a story to tell. You want her guy friends to hate you because, as a guy, you’ve one-upped it and set the bar.”

Bloomberg, guided by personality surveys about the groom and bride-to-be, can coordinate anything from a private proposal before the Smithsonian’s Hope Diamond to a spectacle at Tiffany & Co. on New York City’s Fifth Avenue, complete with red roses, a Champagne toast and tiny, teal Tiffany-box-shaped cakes.

It’s all about what Bloomberg, whose firm is called An Exclusive Engagement, describes as the “aww factor”—“where ‘awww’ becomes like four syllables when you tell the story.”

“A proposal really needs to be catered to her,” says Patrick Smith, founder of Atlanta-based Proposals are Forever, where services range from proposal development (for an idea) to proposal coordination (the logistics to make it happen).

Smith has a database of more than 200 proposal ideas that can be tweaked, so there’s no reason to fall back on the baseball scoreboard announcement routine. “That may be something that the guy likes--but let’s be honest, not really the girl,” Smith says.

Also off limits? Rings that pop out of desserts, over dinner or on Valentine’s Day. “That’s just so cliché,” says Jenifour Jones, founder of Go Get It! Events in Los Angeles, an “experiential” event company specializing in unique proposals. “And I am the anti-cliché.”

For one intricate proposal, Jones once set up a faux off-Broadway show of a fairy-tale story, The Frog Prince, complete with 150 hired actors playing audience members and a segment when one lucky member—yes, the bride-to-be—was pulled onstage for an audience participation bit. Secretly donning the frog costume, the would-be groom also took the stage and asked for her hand in marriage. She said yes. Cost: $15,000.

In early April, Jones helped Jimmy Augustin of Washington, D.C., pull together a surprise proposal trip to New York City for Blandine Saint-Preux. She reserved a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel (where the future bride’s favorite movie, “Coming to America,” was filmed) and arranged for Saint-Preux to receive a note from a contestant on her favorite reality show, “The Biggest Loser.” After Augustin proposed (and got a yes), the happy couple went downstairs and found 15 friends and family members in the lobby, all flown in by Augustin for a celebratory night on the town.

“To know all the work that went behind it, it just made it that much more great,” says newly-engaged Saint-Preux.

Augustin says the entire event cost him a little over $2,000--and that’s not including the three-stone, two-carat diamond ring. Starting with $250 for a basic two-hour consultation, Jones says the ultimate cost depends on what the guy wants to do. “When I ask men what their budget is, a lot of times they’ll go, ‘I don’t know — it depends on how cool it is,’” she says. “If it involves a sports car and a trip here, then they’ll go up a little bit.”

Proposal planners point out that they’re not providing the ideas, but rather “guiding” or “facilitating” the process.

“If you talk to people in the counseling profession, they say, ‘Well, I’m not going to give you the answers, I’m going to help you come up with the answers yourself. I’m just fleshing it out,’” explains Smith. In the same vein, “we’re simply helping them flesh out the proposal ideas that they may already have.”

But what do the women think about their fiancés hiring for help?

“I was touched by the gesture that he’d sought help--men aren’t inclined to do that,” says Kimberly Fox, whose husband, Joel, consulted Bloomberg for his proposal in front of the Hope Diamond. Some guys might be ashamed to use such a service, says Kimberly, but “the only guys I know that are embarrassed now are the ones that hear about my engagement.”

But for all the coordinating, there’s one element that even the most comprehensive planners can’t anticipate. “You should know that she’s going to say yes before you ask,” says Smith. “We don’t guarantee yesses.”

E-mail: jmb2259@columbia.edu