What’s the difference between a content editor and a sub-editor?

content editor

By Suzannah Pearce – 


Content marketing is a team effort. When you get involved in the world of content, you’ll work with strategists, planners, social media managers, designers, creatives… the list goes on. You’ll also encounter content editors and sub-editors – but why do we have both roles? Why do we need two people with ‘editor’ in the title to produce one piece of content? The answer is simple.

A content editor is not the same as a sub-editor. 

What does a content editor do?

A content editor performs a hybrid role. When you look at a content editor’s job description, it contains a bit of everything. If you’re trying to hire a really good content editor, you’re looking for a unicorn. When you find one, don’t let her (or him) go.

Content editing is a mix of writing, copyediting, strategy and project management. When they’re agency side, content editors may have to work directly with clients; that client work could include strategy implementation, analytics reporting, content planning and perhaps staff training so everyone understands what content marketing is.

Most importantly, content editors need to be good with words. They need to understand how to write a clear brief and how to get a writer to hit that brief. They need to know how to give feedback without getting people offside. They need to be able to produce a content calendar or rewrite a blog article when time is of the essence. And they need to do all of it while consistently conveying a brand’s message and delivering ROI.

If you’re looking for practical content editing tips, here’s how to review copy.

What does a sub-editor do?

A sub-editor, sometimes known as a copyeditor, takes the baton from the content editor and runs with it. Whether it’s a blog, an eDM, a LinkedIn post or a PowerPoint presentation, a sub-editor’s job is to fine-tune the content so it’s ready for publication.

Some of the more obvious things a sub-editor will review include spelling, grammar and capitalisation. They’ll make your passive voice active. They’ll use a dictionary – a lot. A sub-editor will check and fact-check every little detail, so when your article promises five ways to travel without breaking the bank, don’t think you can get away with four.

However, a sub-editor is more than a proofreader. Just as content editing has a cross-functional role, a sub-editor also needs to see the bigger picture. They need to understand the brand’s tone of voice and make sure it comes out in the writing. They need to shape content so it’s suitable for the format and channel. They even need to ensure that the SEO keywords in the original brief make it into the final article.

Still don’t believe you need a sub-editor? Here’s why the perfect blog requires copyediting.

Two editors are better than one

It’s often suggested that one person can both edit and sub-edit your content, perhaps to save time or money. Unfortunately, that approach usually doesn’t produce the best outcomes. To reinforce what I said earlier, a content editor is not the same as a sub-editor. The roles are different, and both are necessary. And at a very basic level, a sub-editor provides a fresh pair of eyes.

When a content editor can focus on their own job and a sub-editor can in turn focus on theirs, the result is two people with complementary skill sets working together to create one effective piece of content.