15-Year-Old Publication Celebrates 15th Birthday

Photo by Barbara Wilson

I’m holding, in my hand, the very first issue of our magazine. Full 4-color printing, 24 pages, 4 writers, 7 articles, and a page of recipes [insert Martha Stuart grunting à la Tim Allen]. On the table-of-contents page, in mustard-orange print: November 2004 Vol. 1.

A lot can change in 15 years, and when it comes to the look of Madison Essentials , it’s night and day—different lighting, same magazine. “As we all grow as designers, we have seen the design change for the better,” says director of design & technology Barbara Wilson. Director of design & production Jennifer Denman adds, “Our first issues were a lot smaller, so it was more crowded—text heavy. A lot of our photos were stock photos or shots that a business sent us, but we didn’t have as many options.”

Today, the photos are professionally shot, and they’re bigger and more attractive, complementing the words and rounding out the story. It took a long time to get here, and issue to issue, you probably don’t notice the subtle changes we’re continually implementing. Graphic designer Linda Walker says, “Each time you pick [ Madison Essentials ] up, it never looks the same.” She loves finding surprises in each issue, whether it be one of those Madison jewels rediscovered time and time again, or something truly unique to the times and the area.

But what hasn’t changed over the years is our focus to introduce you to the people and businesses that we believe define Greater Madison. Editor-in-chief Amy Johnson says, “I think our community is very interesting—these businesses and the people.” It’s because of her interest in the community that we pursue the stories we do. It’s also her belief that the magazine has improved because of everybody working on it.

“We’re really lucky that we’re a small publishing company,” says Amy, “because when somebody says something to me or suggests a topic, or I see something that gives me an idea, we pretty much implement it. … It’s allowed us to be more creative in what we’re doing.”

I know you won’t be surprised to hear that we think we put out a quality magazine, but where I think the true value of our publication lies is in its accessibility. Keeping Madison Essentials free for you or anyone to pick up at over 200 locations and online speaks to the importance we place in the Greater Madison community. What’s really great is we’ve upheld this throughout the magazine’s tenure, and will continue doing so with no end in sight.

Living in Sun Prairie, I often get a push after reading Madison Essentials to go to some event or restaurant I’ve heard about but never experienced. Barbara puts it another way, “I like to keep it local and try restaurants that aren’t chains. Madison offers so many unique food options.”

Photograph by Barbara Wilson

For those living outside the area, Jennifer says, “I’m kind of learning as the readers are about different businesses, and I’ve been able to recommend places for people who are looking for dining or shopping spots just from what I see in each magazine issue. I’ve tried new places that I might not have tried before just because I’m more familiar with them.” Linda adds, “Being from Illinois, what I really like is that the ads and articles we work on give me a sense of what’s there. So I get kind of excited when I see somebody that we have in our magazine, and then I see the place. … When I see the place, I’m more excited to go in.”

Unique to the experiences of our readers are the experiences of our writers. Copy editor and writer Krystle Engh Naab gets to visit places in the Madison area she may not have gone to otherwise when she interviews a business for an article. “Going to different parts I’ve never been to really gives me an idea of what these businesses and people do, and what they do for the community. Just seeing there’s more out there than I ever expected.”

I second Krystle’s perspective. Before I moved to the area, my idea of Madison was the university and the Wisconsin State Capitol. After I started working with Madison Essentials , I’ve come to realize that I was looking at the city as though it were only a part of its landmarks. It’s so much more than that, and really has a lot to give. Linda points out, “There’s a lot more going on in a university town than just the university; however, I do believe universities bring a sort of new generation that makes the town constantly have to stay current.” Yeah, I like that too.

Between the six of us in this article, there’s a sense of pride in the creation of each issue, and it’s coupled with a sense of good fortune. Barbara says, “It’s always fun to see the magazines when you’re out. See them on racks, people taking them, people reading them.” Jennifer adds, “I like the range of topics. It’s something for everybody. If they don’t care as much about the dining, maybe they want to read about shopping or nonprofits or the beer or landmarks or different parks. The pet article is nice.” And Krystle’s take, “It’s a great way to show glimpses of what Madison can be depending on what you’re looking for.”

As for the future, Amy has high hopes. We’re aiming to do more digitally, which has been a long time coming. “I didn’t want to do online content for the sake of having online content. I wanted it to make sense. I wanted it to be able to do things that work well with our print publication, and now we’re doing it.” We have Back of the House videos, featuring local drink and menu items, and the Sandy Eichel video podcast series After Should , which is on episode two.

To be incredibly biased, I think there’s something really special about our magazine. Madison is, of course, more than its restaurants and businesses and community events, but if someone had never been to Madison before and only read Madison Essentials to get a feel for it, I believe they’d have an authentic concept of what the Greater Madison area has to offer visitors and residents alike.

Krystle Engh Naab , Kyle Jacobson , Barbara Wilson , Linda Walker , Jennifer Denman , and Amy Johnson are all proud members of team Madison Essentials.

p.s. from Amy Johnson

While we’ve recognized six Madison Essentials contributors in this piece, we understand that we wouldn’t be where we are, or I assume even be here at all, without the support of our readers and advertising sponsors and the efforts of contributing writers, photographers, and past staff. For us, celebrating 15 years of Madison Essentials is celebrating 15 years of you.