Careers as a copywriter or content writer
Most organisations like to promote their products or services, and the written word underpins much of this. Content writers and copywriters write materials and social media messages that draw attention to an organisation and show it in a positive light. Their work ties in closely with that of other professionals such as designers and video producers, who focus on the visual side of things. The organisation in question could be a business, a charity or a public sector body. The words you write will be known as copy, which basically means text.
Some writers are employed directly by the organisation they write about – this is known as working in-house. Some are employed by PR or marketing agencies, which provide writing services to a number of different organisations. And some are self-employed, typically writing for a number of different organisations.
What is a content writer and what is a copywriter?
In terms of job titles, there’s sometimes a distinction between copywriters (who are typically thought of as writing overtly promotional copy that leads directly to sales) and content writers (who are typically thought of as writing informative pieces that more subtly draw attention to an organisation). However, not all employers distinguish between writers in this way. What’s more, sometimes writing duties are just one part of a broader role that also includes other aspects of marketing or PR. Find out more about marketing and PR careers.
What will I actually write and who will it be aimed at?
Sometimes your copy will be written directly for the target audience; other times it will be aimed at journalists, with the hope that they will include it in their publications or broadcasts. And sometimes it’s about one organisation pitching itself to another to provide a product or service in return for payment. The work you’ll produce can include:
- blog posts
- social media posts
- copy for webpages
- press releases
- feature-style articles (like you’d see in a magazine or newspaper supplement)
- email or printed newsletters aimed at customers, clients, colleagues or service-users
- other communications to the above groups (eg one-off emails)
- simple videos (which may require a script, or feature words as part of graphics)
- white papers (formal, well researched reports about an aspect of the relevant industry)
- advertorial content (adverts written in the style of an editorial feature article)
- copy for brochures
- bids (documents put together by organisations when they’re trying to win a contract to provide a product or service)
- case studies (this term can refer to examples of when your PR services have been successful for clients in the past, or to stories based around particular people, organisations or events that you’re trying to get journalists to feature).
What skills do you need to be a copywriter or content writer?
To succeed as a writer you’ll need to be able to vary your writing style. Some organisations or specific tasks may call for copy that shouts about how the company/product/service is the best thing ever; other employers or tasks might require more restraint, taking an objective tone and letting the facts speak for themselves.
You’ll also need to respond to constructive criticism of your writing from your manager and requests for changes from clients that you might not agree with. For example, sometimes a client will appreciate clear, concise writing (which tends to be professional writers’ preferred approach); other times you may need to humour one who’s determined to keep adding in extra words.
Other important skills include time management (to juggle multiple assignments), teamwork (to get on with the wider team and clients) and the ability to learn about new topics quickly (so you feel comfortable writing about them).
How do I become a copywriter or content writer?
There’s no one set way to get into a career in content writing or copywriting. Some employers ask for a relevant degree, though what this means can vary.
- Some like subjects such as English, journalism, marketing or communication.
- Some like a subject that relates to their business (such as a medical communications agency asking for a life sciences degree).
- Some accept any degree subject.
- Some don’t mind whether you’ve been to university at all.
However, getting writing experience will help – for example working on a student newspaper.
Some content writers start out in related careers such as journalism and then move across later on. Journalistic experience tends to be valued by employers.
Content writer Rob explains his job
Rob Wilkinson is a self-employed PR and marketing consultant and journalist/editor.
What does your job involve?
Creating engaging online PR content for companies of all sizes, from press releases to case studies to newsletters to video content as well as strategic marketing and media planning (helping organisations decide where to advertise and how frequently).
How much writing do you do each day, and what types of materials do you write?
A few articles and social media updates per day.
How did you get into your career?
I did communication studies at university and began my working life as a sports journalist with Sky. A degree helps but the ability to write and formulate ideas is far more important.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The range of creative challenges and the opportunity to travel. In addition, being self employed gives me a lot of control over my time, although there is the obvious financial risk and uncertainty associated with self employment. This impacted me in a big, life-changing way after the 2008 crash! Another benefit is the capacity to do unpaid PR work for issues and progressive organisations that I have a strong affinity with. For example, working as volunteer press officer for the GB Special Olympics squad enabled me to travel around the world to international events.
What skills or personal qualities do you need to do your job well?
You must have a desire and willingness to write about any and every kind of subject matter, an ability to think outside of the box and the ability to be objective in terms of creating copy and content that is not overtly commercial. I do not generally write advertising (ad) copy so stories have to be engaging to target audiences and target media. They must seek to create a story or narrative about a company or organisation that enhances its reputation. The vast majority of PR professionals ignore this and prepare little more than ad copy. A journalistic background helps in this regard and features are far more likely to be used by media if an article is written in this way. You don’t just sit down and write; everything needs to be carefully thought out and planned both in terms of subject matter and target audiences.