As a freelance copywriter, I’m always surprised when someone asks me ‘so what is copywriting then?’ It’s easy to live inside your own little bubble when you spend your entire working day (and often night) writing copy.
Personally, I first heard the term about 10 years ago when I was doing journalism work placements. I’d heard the word ‘copywriter’ thrown about a few times at different papers but I didn’t really know what the job involved exactly. It wasn’t until I started my own website in the education sector that people started asking me if I could ‘write copy for them’ and so the term became part of my everyday existence.
What Copywriting Isn’t…
Let’s begin by clearing up any confusion about the term. I find that people tend to confuse ‘copywriting’ with proofreading or copyright. Although both these things are relevant to the job of a copywriter (copyright to a lesser extent), they aren’t the main focus of the job.
(On a side note, someone once asked me what I did for a living and when I explained, they asked ‘is that legal?’ to which I replied ‘of course it’s legal’. It only occurred to me a few days later that they were referring to legal copywriting…oops.)
What is a Copywriter?
So, by my definition, a copywriter is someone who writes for commercial purposes. It could be anything from sales letters to blog posts. And there’s usually a persuasive element in the writing too. A copywriter encourages people to fulfil a specific call to action, or raise awareness of an event, cause, or idea.
The following video from D&DA also provides a good introduction to the term:
What Do Copywriters Do?
The job description of a copywriter can vary depending on where they work and who their clients are but the common task that defines us all is writing. Generally speaking, there are three types of copywriter:
- A freelance copywriter, who is self-employed and works on a contracted basis, writing for private clients and different types of agencies.
- An agency copywriter, who is a PAYE employee and works for either a creative, digital, marketing, search, inbound, or other type of agency.
- An in-house copywriter, who is an employee of a company (in any industry) and is responsible for writing the company’s communications.
Who Do Copywriters Write For?
It may sound obvious, but copywriters write for other people – even the ones that specialise in SEO copywriting (or at least the good ones do). The type of customer a copywriter writes for will depend on whether they’re freelance, agency, or in-house.
A freelance copywriter might specialise in writing for a particular industry and so their typical customer might be quite specific in terms of demographics. An agency copywriter on the other hand, might do more writing for local businesses over a range of industries, whereas an in-house copywriter might write for the specific industry that the company operates in. Of course, these aren’t hard and fast rules and a copywriter would generally be flexible enough to write for any target audience.
What do Copywriters Write?
In general, copywriters would write anything that might be used for commercial purposes. This could include, but definitely isn’t limited to:
- Sales letters
- Website landing pages
- Tagines and slogans
- Product descriptions
- Blog posts
- Video scripts
- Brochures and other printed material
Some copywriters might write everything on the list above, whereas others might specialise in one or two. For a good overview of what copywriting involves, check out this video from Creative Spark:
Different Types of Copywriting
Within the general term of ‘copywriting’, there are various different sub-categories that we could define more specifically, some of which include:
- Direct response copywriting, which focuses on delivering direct sales messages in the form of letters, emails and landing pages.
- Creative copywriting, which includes writing slogans and taglines and naming companies, services and products.
- Advertising copywriting that focuses on developing concepts and copy for TV ads, billboards, print media and website advertising.
- Website copywriting, which involves writing web pages and developing tone of voice, while delivering information and persuading people to take action.
- SEO copywriting, which focuses on writing content that ranks well in search engines, attracts backlinks and drives website traffic. For more info, take a look at our post What is SEO Copywriting?
- Conversion copywriting that focuses on improving metrics like click-through-rates on calls to action.
- Product description copywriting, which involves outlining the features and benefits of products, while persuading customers to buy.
- Script copywriting that includes writing scripts for promotional and explainer videos, TV and radio.
- Blog copywriting, which involves writing blog content, keyword research and devising content strategies.
- Press release copywriting, which involves writing news releases for companies to be distributed to media outlets.
Although there are several different types of copywriting (and copywriters), there are common characteristics that bind the skill together. Unlike some other types of writing, copywriting aims to deliver messages in a clear, understandable (yet nevertheless clever) way, which often involves simplifying complex information.
Header image by Joanna Teo