When you hire a copywriter, one obstacle to overcome can be selecting the right type – given all the various flavours we come in. That’s because no two copywriters are the same (though many will take on any old copywriting work, regardless of their experience). While we are an adept, creative bunch, each copywriter has his or her natural aptitudes, and copywriting arenas in which we feel most at home.
So this is a short, simple guide to the five most common types of copywriter you’ll find out there – freelance or otherwise.
Why these five types of copywriter?
Well they’re the most common types of copywriter you’ll find advertised on freelance boards or job websites. But also I have inside knowledge: over the last decade or so, I’ve tried my hand at all five in varying degrees. That said, I don’t claim to be master of every copywriting genre below. For the record I’m more like 60% digital, 30% editorial, 10% conceptual.
Let me explain…
1. Content creator a.k.a blogger
Probably the most ubiquitous type of copywriter, the content writer publishes almost exclusively online to blogs or social networks. There’s a large amount of churn in this market, plus saturation from anyone who owns a keyboard. Their goal tends to be generating sticky content with magnetic headlines that’s SEO-friendly, so ranks highly in search engines. Their usual format is short 300-500 word online posts focused on some topic they must target to attract their readership.
2. Technical writer
Structured writing is the name of the game here. These people have industry-specific knowledge of a very specialised subject matter and their copy goes into white-papers or knowledge management systems for cataloguing. They tend to prefer long-copy formats – documents with reams of technical information for a very defined audience.
3. Conceptual (ad) copywriter
Your classic agency creative who writes for a range of mediums, always in conjunction with a creative team of designers, artworkers and directors. Their domain is a high-pressure universe of deadlines for print and online advertising, with big brands and big budgets. Their job tends to be highly creative, often short-copy formats given the nature of advertising and short attention spans. They also craft ‘tone of voice’ for brands and are instrumental in how that brand develops. I’ve done a bit of this, subcontracting for agencies and it’s thrilling yet very mentally exhausting. But the rewards are great when you see your words on a billboard or in a magazine.
4. Digital copywriter
A combination of 1 and 3, the digital copywriter is web-native, publishing their copy to webpages and website content management systems, plus online advertising and social networks too. Generally their projects span multiple mediums and formats – not just text. A digital copywriter has a strong understanding of how online platforms work, and they’re very adaptable in how they can hone a message for the right audience.
5. Editorial copywriter
More like a journalist (albeit without the impartiality), editorial copywriters write and copyedit long-form copy, like articles, reports, brochures and leaflets. Their words appear in print and online. They tend to excel at distilling reams of information into more succinct forms, so research and planning is very important to them. They work often edit copy to confirm with style guides (which they sometimes define) and make sure bodies of copywriting stay consistent.
Most copywriters, myself included (60:30:10), will be content to place themselves somewhere on this spectrum, being a mixture with dominance in one particular type of copywriting. Digital copywriting is mine, thanks to a solid background in IT, software and computer science, but in hindsight I should’ve been a journalist so editorial trails not far behind. Very handy for the case studies and insight articles I have to write for clients.
Two minor distinctions for copywriters
At the risk of muddying the waters in my closing thoughts, there are two further distinctions when considering the type of copywriter you need. These are less important but worth a mention.
Firstly, there’s which kind of copy length they’re most comfortable with. Long-copy copywriters, like me, enjoy stretching their legs when they write copy – then the prune and copyedit later. Short-copy copywriters go for punchy strap-lines, headlines and slogans. They’re good at puns, cliche and wordplay. Some say this distinction applies to the medium (how much space and reader attention is available). But in my opinion it really only applies to who’s reading and what’s best for them.
Secondly (and lastly) there’s a rough ranking based on experience. There’s senior, mid-weight and junior copywriters. Generally speaking it’s just a way of pay-grading copywriters for employment, and it tracks how many years they’ve been practicing at an agency. Senior copywriters tend to manage other copywriters and have a leading hand in directing how a campaign looks. They also know how to handle the expectations (politics) of big brand accounts. Juniors are exploited, underpaid yet eager newcomers, keen to get some experience and brands in their book. Your mid-weight copywriters, like me, know the ropes, being plenty experienced, and are more content to get their heads down and stay focused on the act of writing.
Like with any job title, senior/mid-weight/junior is quite arbitrary and doesn’t necessarily follow age.
Here ends this short guide to different types of copywriter
Naturally, the best copywriter is the freelance kind. Hire a great one here.