BBH Hooks UDate

Internet dating service, which competes with market leader, has hired Bartle Bogle Hegarty as its first agency in the U.S.

The New York shop will handle creative and media duties for the Derby, England-based cli ent. Billings are estimated at $10-15 million.

BBH bested two other finalists, New York shops Ogilvy & Mather and Wieden + Kennedy, said sources.

“BBH clearly differentiated them selves from the competition with their strong focus on strategic planning,” said Sam Bedford, uDate’s vp of sales and marketing in the U.S.

The shop’s first work is expected in the spring, said agency president Cindy Gallop.

UDate’s advertising has been limited to Internet banner ads, which were created in-house.

UDate claims 237,000 paid subscribers, thanks in part to its 2001 acquisition of former rival The Richardson, Texas-based Match, which claims 604,000 subscribers, is in review, with four finalists preparing to pitch an estimated $20 million account.

While many Web-based companies have struggled to generate steady revenue, dating sites have been relatively successful due to ease of use and monthly user fees. Consumers who previously paid for newspaper personal ads seem to accept the fees, and their migration to the Internet has reportedly contri buted to a decline in newspaper ad revenue.

BBH this year has added more than $130 million in billings, according to CMR, from uDate, Levi’s, ING Direct, Axe and Road Runner. The shop now claims billings of about $300 million.