Content (writer) versus copy(writer) | Blue Scribe

Do you know whether you need a copywriter or content writer — or both? If you’re hiring for larger projects you need to know the difference to get the right results.

Copywriters and content writers are complimentary, but specialist roles. There are also other generic, untrained writers who’ve jumped aboard the ‘content marketing’ bandwagon, and they’re after your marketing budget.

[Ooh, if you’re looking for a guide on how to choose a writer, here’s one we made earlier.]

Content versus copy

In the publishing and broadcast context, ’content’ has always meant the stuff inside magazines and newspapers, on TV, radio and at live events: written/spoken words, images, graphics. In digital marketing it still means all that, plus rapidly evolving creative formats, from podcasts to slideshares (and new forms are being invented each year).

In print journalism, book publishing, advertising and website terminology, ’copy’ has always meant just the written words. The question is: when is the written word called ‘content’ and when is it ‘copy’?

“Copy sells, content tells”

The simplest distinction I’ve heard is that copywriters persuade (writing super short copy) and content writers inform (often with longer word counts). To put it another way, as Elizabeth Campbell says in this blog: “copy sells, content tells”.

The long and the short of it

Depending on what you’re writing for and why you’re writing it you’ll need a mix of short and long ‘copy’. The short, snappy words, which ooze your brand personality and encourage an action, need the skills of a copywriter. The longer copy is often, rather drearily, referred to as ‘content’. [Look, it’s all called content, and it’s all a bit confusing, so as an industry, we’re working hard to explain the difference. Bear with us].

[Some say defining these terms is a pedantic, pointless exercise. Savvy marketers and business owners disagree. They want to know the difference so they can find the right person for the job. All too often we’re approached by clients who say they were disappointed with their last ‘copywriter’, which left them frustrated, weary of the whole industry, and a bit pissed off. Oh, and, for the record, they are now over the moon with their copy/content…in fact, it was these clients that spurred me to join the Bristol Content Group debate, hosted by the marvellous girls at Valuable Content.]

Copywriter or content writer?

The term ‘copywriter’ has always referred to the advertising clan: the slogan slingers, the Mad Men. They write short taglines, straplines, ads, jingles…those short messages that stick in your mind, encourage brand loyalty and guide you towards purchase: ‘Because you’re worth it’ / ‘Just do it’ / ‘It does exactly what it says on the tin.’

Since the ‘content marketing’ bandwagon rolled into town, we have been at risk of drowning in “a deluge of crap, according to Velocity Partners in 2013, with every flavour of marketing agency cramming the word ‘content’ into everything they do.

Just to confuse things, some writers tag themselves copywriters when they’re more like content writers. There are also SEO writers, marketing writers, technical writers, plus a few more, as, Fiona Campbell-Howes, from Radix Communications (Cornwall), says here: ‘The seven types of B2B copywriter’.

A bit about strategy

On top of this, there are content strategists: the big picture thinkers and planners behind a brand’s content marketing. Content strategy includes the scheduling, creation and promotion of all your content, then the measurement of the strategy’s success. It’s backed up with an editorial mission statement and is built upon all the stuff you’d find in a word-based branding and tone of voice guide (voice/persona/style/values/USP/goals/competitors).

In my opinion, content strategy is the most holistic option. But, WARNING: if the strategists are not handing the writing over to specialist, trained writers, be wary — it’s as rare as a £15 note to find someone who is an excellent strategic thinker and a solid writer.

If you’re smart (and I can tell you are), you’ll choose a bunch of writers who understand branding and work with strategists…ahem, can you hear a trumpet blowing?

The Bristol debate

This debate blew up again on the distinction between ‘copywriters’ and ‘content writers’ (and which is best suited for each type of project) in September. It intrigued me, pulled at my core identity; made me evolve. So I’m off to the Bristol Content Group debate on November 1, 2016. There will be more on this topic, oh yes.