The magazine you’re reading highlights unique stories, shares local history, and celebrates successes in the community. You can see that because you’re reading it! What you might not know is that this is a special, milestone issue: You’re reading the 50th addition of Aberdeen Magazine.
Maybe you’re a long-time subscriber who never misses an issue, or perhaps this is the first time you’ve picked it up from a display in a local shop or restaurant. Either way, you might wonder about the magazine’s own story, its history, and the secrets of its success.
It all began with a man who loves the city of Aberdeen, who made it his mission to shine a spotlight on our community.
Troy McQuillen founded McQuillen Creative Group in 1995. The company was first a design shop specializing in print-related graphic design. It has evolved as the times changed to include additional services such as digital graphic design, advertising, and brand development. Today, MCG also provides website design, development and management, marketing, digital content development and social media management, and original videos, including commercials, trainings, and documentaries.
While the staff works hard to provide unparalleled expertise to each and every client according to their needs, there’s one unofficial client that also benefits from the flurry of activity and the abundance of talent in the McQuillen office building on Main Street: Aberdeen itself.
Magazine staff and contributors agree that Mr. McQuillen’s deeply rooted passion for promoting and celebrating the city of Aberdeen is infectious. His pride and enthusiasm for the community permeate the company’s climate and the mood in the office. The optimism and excitement about the future manifest in the words and photos on the very pages of the magazine you’re holding.
After a decade or so with MCG, McQuillen knew there was a need in the community for a publication that could fill a particular niche, focusing on uplifting stories and, he said, “putting our current situation and future into perspective using historical stories.”
He set out to provide a voice for the heart of the community. In 2006, A List Magazine rolled off the presses. A precursor of the current Aberdeen Magazine, it was smaller in size and distributed free at local businesses. In time, and with a small staff handling a fast-growing client list at MCG, McQuillen made the difficult decision to shelve the project. But there was always a question in the back of his mind, “How can we do the same thing, but better?” He continued to think about ways to provide the type of high-quality publication he believed Aberdeen deserved to have.
In late 2012, the universe gave him a push in the right direction when the right people came along at the right time. Kiki Wanshura arrived to handle ad sales, and Barb Andrews signed on as its first editor. Aberdeen Magazine was officially in business. The first cover featured an up-close view of Lady Justice on top of the Brown County Courthouse. It questioned if residents walk by this bright, golden statue in the center of town every day without ever really noticing it, what else in our city were we overlooking because it all seemed so familiar?
Aberdeen Magazine initially didn’t look exactly like it does now. It was thinner in the beginning, and the covers looked different. Eliot Lucas, graphic designer, does the layout. “They give me all the pieces, and I put the puzzle together,” he said.
Lucas, who started with the MCG right out of college, cites the change from a cover with a graphic border to full-photo covers as an important evolution in the magazine’s feel and style moving forward. He said, “This magazine is the type of thing you might expect a larger city to have.” Lucas added that the photos make a big difference, and the vibrant covers are easily recognizable.
McQuillen agreed that full-color photographs add an extra layer to the storytelling in each issue. “When I see a big, beautiful picture, I want to read to learn more about what I see in the picture.” Quality matters, too. The magazine doesn’t scrimp on printing costs, choosing heavy, glossy paper and recently switching to a “perfect” binding – which you can notice if you look at the spine of this issue. In accordance with the belief at the heart of the magazine – supporting the community – Aberdeen Magazine has always been printed locally, currently by Midstates Printing. “It’s almost like a picture book,” said graphic designer, Nicole Hoines. “It’s perfect for keeping out on the coffee table.”
Advertising pays the bills, for the most part. While the magazine was initially offered only via subscriptions and retail sales (selling for $3.99 an issue), over time, McQuillen decided that he wanted more people to see the stories. It’s now distributed for free at almost 200 locations around town. McQuillen himself delivers new issues every two months at publication time. More than 6,000 issues are picked up by readers during each issue cycle.
Web designer Abby McQuillen said, “I know so many people who say they’ve kept every single issue. They keep them to go back and look at them again.” Sales representative Julie Lillis agreed that readers like to hold onto their copies because many of the articles are timeless. “People save issues because these are stories you can read and reread. You can pick up an issue and read it in a year, and it would be as interesting as it is today. Every story is relevant to everyone in the community.”
The magazine is still available by subscription, and plenty of copies are still going out in the mail, direct to Aberdeen Magazine fans. One group of subscribers – almost half, in fact – are former Aberdeen residents who enjoy getting the magazine to keep up with what’s happening at “home.”
Regular contributing writer, Pat Gallagher, said it’s not just residents who should pick up a copy. People from out of town really ought to read the magazine, too. “Visitors should pick it up. They might find something to like about Aberdeen that they didn’t know about or didn’t expect.” Even though he’s a long-time resident, he said, “Every single issue tells me something I didn’t know. It’s truly a ‘feel good’ picture of Aberdeen.”
Ask the staff what makes the magazine truly special, and you’ll hear that theme repeated: Readers say they learn something new. “We’ve been doing this for nine years,” said Lucas, “and we’ve never yet repeated a story.”
Online marketing specialist Daniel Wise agreed, “It really serves to connect all of Aberdeen. It’s a small town, and you may feel like you know everything about it, but there are so much history and depth to it. The magazine explores all of that.”
The team brings its own experiences to the table when choosing story ideas or brainstorming ways to showcase businesses, people, and historical features. Video producer Stephanie Ludens said, “We all have different ways of perceiving the community, and we all have our hands in the magazine.” Hoines described it as “the heartbeat of Aberdeen, the pulse of all that’s going on.” She said the magazine has something for everyone: business profiles, personal stories, popular events, and things to do.
The historical articles add extra perspective, and they’re some of the most popular pieces in the magazine. Editor Jenny Roth said, “The history of where we live is something we all have in common. It’s just another way for us to feel connected.” McQuillen is known around town as a local historian, and it’s not uncommon for folks to walk in the door with old photos or historical items to show the staff. Roth added, “You think you know Aberdeen, but there’s so much to know! I think when you read the magazine, you know where you live on a whole other level.”
Business features provide an important service to the community, showcasing new establishments opening their doors and well-known entities. Wise said there are fascinating stories right here in our own backyard: “Unique stories to give a spotlight to ordinary people doing extraordinary things, to show their complexities, and to paint a complete picture. It’s so important.”
Bookkeeper Wendy Monson said the features can really mean a lot to “mom and pop” businesses, and readers can even learn from the ad pages. “There’s value in the advertisements. You never know what you’re going to learn.” Web developer and coder Zamani Peters said the articles can help businesses thrive.“It creates word of mouth and highlights things you might not see anywhere else.”
While a daily newspaper must report crime, politics, weather, and government stories overnight, the staff at the magazine have the relative luxury of working on a cherished story idea for weeks or even months. That allows for in-depth interviews and highly detailed photo shoots. Intern Jennifer Fjelstad points to the special Aberdeen Weddings issue as an example of a project that involved intense planning and contributions from everyone on staff in one way or another, culminating in a product that showcased local businesses and people. “Bringing everything together that way is a lot of fun. It’s so exciting to see it on the page.” Lucas shared that joy of printing time, “When it’s no longer just living on a screen but a physical object I can hold!’”
So what’s in the future for this little local magazine? Joan Heier, web developer, points out that consumers look for news in different ways now. “Anyone with a computer or a phone – basically everyone – wants to get content via the website.” Though the beauty of the magazine as a physical object is a point of pride, and its distribution continues to increase, staff members know that some readers want to get their information from scrolling on devices. Wise is on a mission to maximize mobile and online access, with a focus on social media outreach to attract more viewers and achieve more exposure for stories that matter. His goal is to cultivate the magazine’s digital presence. The stories and the images provide real value, he said. “Photos are everything.”
Staff members say videos add an extra dimension to the stories. Peters said the goal is utilizing digital access to create a connection with readers. “Video clips,” he said, “can lead people to the rest of the content.” Ludens said, “We want the magazine’s website to be a real source of information online. When people search ‘Aberdeen, SD,’ we want them to access our magazine.”
One thing is certain: the focus of the magazine won’t change. Lillis summed it up, “100% Aberdeen, and 100% positive.”
As McQuillen said, the community has so much to offer. “People made this town out of a grass field. If people 140 years ago could make a city out of nothing, how much more could we do with what we have now, and with positivity and enthusiasm?”
Fjelstad added, “We love the community, and as a natural result of that, we will always find cool things to report. We’re capturing and sharing the culture of Aberdeen.”
Peters agreed there’s “the glamour and glitter” of what goes on in town, but more than that, there’s also “an emotional touch, an intimate look at Aberdeen.” And Roth said the magazine will continue to bring the best of Aberdeen to light: “Everyone has a story; knowing someone’s story connects you to them. It shows us we’re more alike than we’re different, and it makes you proud of where we live. It’s a big deal to us, to tell these stories.”
Abby McQuillen points out the bottom line, “You can’t get this content anywhere else in Aberdeen.” //
A Note On Your Publisher
When I heard Aberdeen Magazine was doing this story, the production process for the magazine that goes on in my house immediately popped into my mind.
I’m involved sometimes, but, more specifically, I thought the world should get some more personal insight about your publisher, Troy McQuillen. Some of my favorite dates with my husband are the cooking photo shoots for the recipe articles. Together, we’ve made and photographed chislic, kuchen, Thanksgiving dinner, tomato soup, and the hot beef combination from the Virginia Café. I help Troy stage the photographs, but how he creates the beautiful pictures that make it to print is beyond me.
Our evenings include Troy researching old newspapers, writing to family members of historical Aberdonians, shopping for Aberdeen historical photos and postcards, writing articles, and spending endless hours tweaking type treatments for headlines. Those who are my Facebook friends have probably heard me say this, but I’ll say it again for all of you – Aberdeen Magazine is Troy’s love letter to Aberdeen. I could be jealous of all the time he spends on this publication and his love for all things Aberdeen, but it’s one of the things about him that make me love him.
Know that when you’re reading Aberdeen Magazine, Troy’s entire heart is in those pages. // – Dani McQuillen