Good luck with your quest Patrick. This is something of a recurring theme and it would be peachy keen if there were options out there for people that want more than the default Arcmap export functionality and less than Mapub's deluxe GIS-within-Illustrator style of functionality. Someone should build a basic georeferencing kind of Illy tool that offers only the ability to import new map layers into an Illustrator document and adapt to existing georeferencing entry level customers such as yourself. Then those of us on the corporate budgets could keep buying the expensive tools and those just entering the market would have a legal option.
In the meantime, the ESRI mapping center is a great place to look for tips! Some it might still be applicable even if you exporting files from a different software suite.
This is something we were just talking about earlier this week at work. A "MAPublisher lite" would be a great tool. Something that reads .shp files directly (bypassing the Arc .ai process) allowing full access to the layer line work, not just whats on screen. It would only need to retain enough info about the reference system to allow for proper placement and scaling of new layers. It would require the user to prepare all layers for AI in Arc before hand, mostly setting a uniform refernce system. No need for transformations or advanced styling options, basically just a .shp importer. I would guess that a tool like that, at a reasonable price ($150 or less maybe) or even as shareware could drive more sales to full MAPub then the demo does.