Eight years ago, Trish Byrd followed her husband Chip to Santa Fe from Washington, DC. Chip, a professional camera assistant, came to New Mexico to work on films. Trish, who in Washington was the CEO of her own consulting company, wanted to break into a different line of work. Together, they bought the Essential Guide, a 23-year-old glossy publication that acts as high-end bible to the city. Although it’s owned by Washington expats, the publication is deeply local. Its pages, which promote local artwork and culture, only publish ads from businesses around northern New Mexico. Since buying the magazine, the Byrds have expanded its coverage beyond the arts and increased its size from approximately 250 pages to 300 pages. Next year, the Essential Guide will expand into three new markets: Colorado, Washington state and South Carolina/Georgia. The current Santa Fe and Taos issue is available at galleries, museums and restaurants around the city. SFR recently caught up with Trish to talk about where the guide is going from here.
Trish Byrd: We knew of the guide before we came here—we had used it, before we moved here, as tourists…The one thing about this book that’s really unique is that every owner since 1986 has been a local owner, and everyone that’s owned it before has been successful in putting their own spin to it. I knew that I wanted to do something a little more different, a little more creative.
We added more focus to make it a true high-end guide. Fifty percent of this book will always be art. But we knew that what goes hand-in-hand with art is architecture design. What goes hand-in-hand with architecture design is your home shopping, fashion and dining. We made it more of a full-rounded essential publication that people would want. Probably 70 percent of the book was art when we got it. That’s still our bread and butter, and people are still pleased about what we do there.
One of the things we’re known for is getting the color right, getting the artwork right—which is hard to do in any print publication.
A lot of our research with [expanding] to other markets involves taking the data we have here and finding which markets had similar hits.
Spokane has a cutting-edge art market. They also have a huge architect revival downtown. The Durango/Telluride market is going to have a smaller book, but it still has your high-end traveler, your second-home buyer, your third-home buyer. They’re growing communities. They’re putting money toward tourism. They’re putting money toward economic development. They have arts; they have the outdoors; they have dining.
Our writers are all freelancers. Some come to us and pitch a story. Others, I know how they write. Like [former Outside magazine Managing Editor] Katie Arnold: I know she’s a phenomenal writer, so when I need a good outdoors story I go to her. We’ve also talked to local travel writers in Charleston and Savannah. We work with the communities we go into.
[When we bought the guide] we told our clients we’d be more creative about getting the book in the hands of the people coming here. We knew we’d have to make something that would be user-friendly but also aesthetically pleasing. We added the website, the social media and, by the end of the year, we’re going to have apps in each of our markets. We’ll also be adding a blog this year.
You can download the whole book if you want to. The only place where people pay for this book is ordering it online (it costs $9). When there’s a major fundraiser somewhere in the country that’s auctioning off a trip to Santa Fe, we’ll ship our book there.
It’s just different. Its shape, its layout, its design makes it unique. I think that’s what helps people pick it up. You’ll probably find the book at 300 places around the city.