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  • Jo M

What’s the difference between a freelance content writer and a freelance copywriter?

TL;DR: One works in marketing, the other in advertising.

It’s really that simple.

But it’s often the case that many people, when looking for someone to write content for them will Google ‘hire a freelance copywriter’, when actually, that isn’t what they want at all. I’m not sure how or why ‘copywriter’ has become the ubiquitous terms for someone who writes content, but if you’re looking to hire someone to write long-form content, such as blog posts, web content or white papers for you, it’s important to know the difference between the two.

When I worked in PR, the first agency I worked at had an in-house creative team, led by a (somewhat fearsome) copywriter. Our agency was in the heart of the West End of London, next door to none other than top ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi. So, at work (and in the pub afterwards), I was surrounded by world-class copywriters. But, despite spending my days writing press releases, white papers and other types of copy, I was never a copywriter.

It’s a copywriter’s job to come up with those catchy ad slogans that stick in your head. It’s their job to say things in as few words as possible. To come up with that killer headline, or sucker-punch strapline. Or to magic up those bloody annoying jingles that become earworms (side fact: as an F1 fan, it still delights me that Formula One commentator, the late, great Murray Walker, was a copywriter: he was responsible for ‘A Mars a Day Helps You Work, Rest and Play’, amongst many other leading slogans of the era.)

So, what does a content writer do?

We write all the other stuff. That’s not to say that we can’t come up with slogans, straplines and more too – we often do, but it’s not what pays our bills. I worked with a senior account executive in my PR team who was as good as any of the team at Saatchi’s when it came to coming up with the zingers of headlines for our client's press releases: puns, snappy excerpts – you name it, he could do it. Yet he wasn’t as good as the rest of the team, when it came to the writing of the press release itself. He certainly wasn’t a bad writer, but the detail of clearly explaining how something worked, or what made a story interesting would often get a little lost.

Does that mean content writers = crappy headlines?

Not necessarily! Of course, these days, a copywriter’s job has become infinitely more blurred with those of a content writer, as catchy puns and stunning slogans give way to the demands of SEO and keywords, to ensure that titles are fully optimised and deliver optimal search results. We may be saying goodbye to the era of titles simply being great reading, at the expense of them needing to deliver the metrics. But, as a content writer, the demise of the snappy headline works in my favour, while copywriters will find themselves more limited to delivering print and offline advertising materials, as us content writers continue to find great ways to say the things that people want to read.

If you need a content writer – make sure you hire a content writer

The devil is in the detail. New (and even some more experienced) writers often get confused with how to package and sell their services and make the same content/copywriter mistake when promoting the services that they offer.

A content writer will understand your target audience, look at your marketing objectives and develop content for several different media, such as press releases and PR, website content writing, white paper writing and more. A copywriter will deliver slogans and headlines and work within confines where space is at a premium, usually in tandem with a designer, whose job it is to visually bring those words to life.

Who earns more: A content writer or a copywriter?

When it comes to making the big bucks, a copywriter at an advertising agency can undoubtedly command the most money, particularly for FMCGs (Fast Moving Consumer Goods), where a witty slogan or catchy product name can be the difference between success and failure.

Content writers, on the other hand, are part of a wider marketing effort and while their fees are mostly considerably less than the rates charged by copywriters, they tend to have a greater volume of work which spans more disciplines.

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About the author:

I'm Jo, a professional content writer based in Brighton, England. I offer freelance content writing services, including blog posts, website content writing services, press release writing, white paper writing and more. Learn about all my content writing services here. I also offer a wide range of content strategy and management services, content editing and marketing support services for B2B, B2C and B2B2C customers.

I specialise in B2B writing, SaaS writing and writing about AI. I also write about health, wellness, beauty and skincare. (Yes, it's a weird mix, I know.)


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