Whether you work freelance or for an agency, there are several different guises that we copywriters come in.
1. Business to consumer (b-to-c) copywriter
This kind of copywriter is the type you’d see in movies, the wild and wacky guy (invariably it is a guy) coming up with crazy ideas while living a generally dissolute kind of life. In real life there really are those kind of characters working in agencies – though the excesses of the 80s and 90s are probably gone forever.
However, that kind of b-to-c copywriter is just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath him are thousands and thousands of hardworking creative copywriters whose job it is to come up with interesting ways to sell boring products to consumers – to people like you and me.
2. Business to business (b-to-b) copywriter
The b-to-b copywriter is also a creative writer but the opportunities to let that creativity rip are very limited. Why ‘limited’? Well, it could be down to the copywriter him/herself to be honest. If someone can’t quite cut it in a creative agency they may step down a rung on the advertising ladder and settle for a seat in a b-to-b agency where the expectations for fireworks are lower.
Then again, there are creative b-to-b copywriters who are simply thwarted by the limited vision of very dull clients. Budgets in business-to-business tend to be lower too so the chance to go on location for an exotic photo-shoot are few and far between. And, generally, the requirements of advertising one business’s products or services to another business are for a reasoned and sober argument rather than a wild and wacky appeal to the emotions.
3. Technical copywriter
The technical copywriter is a special breed. Their job is to write things like ‘how to’ manuals that come with any piece of complicated equipment – from a TV to a brain scanner. They may even specialise in a particular field like electronics or medical equipment. They need a very good understanding of the technical side of a product and probably come from a science background rather than an artsy, writing type background.
Nonetheless they have to be good writers to be able to analyse a very complex bit of gear and then communicate in simple language how it works.
4. SEO copywriter
Writing copy that is ‘Search Engine Optimised’ is a relatively new discipline. The idea is that they use all kinds of ruses and stratagems to make sure that a piece of copy gets picked up by search engines in front of other similar bits of copy from other companies. It’s a dark art and no one is really sure if what they do is going to be successful or not because no one really knows how Google ranks the pages in its searches.
In the past they would simply pack a piece of writing with a keyword (or phrase) that many people were likely to be searching for. But Google soon saw through that and tweaked its algorithms to stop it being mislead. Now this kind of copywriter is getting more subtle by including things like inward and outward links in their copy (which Google seems to like). But, in my opinion, however subtle SEO writers get, Google’s systems are going to always be more subtle and clever to the power of about a zillion. Or a google.
5. Content copywriter
I hate the term ‘content’. It makes copy sound like a commodity rather than something that’s been carefully crafted and thought about. I can hear an editor saying something like: “I’ve got 32 pages to fill now so get me some content to fill them!” as if it doesn’t matter what the subject matter is as long as it can be printed.
I say “printed” because the traditional content writer would typically write for specialist publications like airline magazines or supermarket customer magazines. You know the kind of vapid articles that are very readable but which you’ll have forgotten before you’ve even put the magazine down.
These days, though, a content writer is normally writing for online. Content marketing is the buzz phrase right now and everyone is at it. The idea is to attract as many people as possible to a company’s website (or Facebook page – or any other online presence for that matter) by giving them something interesting to read or look at. Then, the hope is, the user will be, first, encouraged one way or another to buy the company’s product and, second, encouraged to pass on the message to their own network (through ‘liking’ for instance).
6. Online copywriter
There’s a lot of overlap between the one kind of copywriter and another. Small agency copywriters whose bread and butter is b-to-b will often get the chance to work on a consumer account if the suits are doing their job right. In the other direction they may well be asked to take on a bit of technical writing too. And any copywriter these days is likely to be a content writer to some extent.
So this last category, ‘Online copywriter’ is likely to be an amalgam of different types. But s/he specialises in the particular requirements of writing for websites and will likely have a good understanding of how they are put together so that they can structure their copy appropriately and allocate bits of information to the right place. They’ll also be aware that people read on-screen in different ways to how they read print and so will write their copy accordingly.