Walls speak at Ham’s copywriting workshop

BY BIG EYES (Ham’s alter ego)

After a minute of silence to acknowledge and pray for the dead and injured in the Middle East, Ham paused for while and said….

“Remember that the displaced child standing in  South Gaza’s Khan Younis hospital compound is looking up at the same sky you and your children are looking at. The only difference is, we are in paradise.”

And the class began.

It was 8.55am, June 25 in a conference room on the third floor of the Eastin Hotel (I don’t know why they call the ground floor the first floor).

It was a copywriting workshop, and the previous day was a brainstorming day for a group of 23 metallurgists thrashing out the problems they faced with falling flyovers.

I am no scientist, but today it’s about Copywriting.

That’s a brand new one for me.

So without much flutter, I perched myself on the top corner of a flip chart stand to listen to Ham while watching everything before me.

You see, as a fly, I have compound eyes which simply means I have thousands of individual lenses in my eyes so I can detect even the slightest movement in a wide field.

But my vantage position was not to be, as Ham trooped up and down the room, arms swinging in all directions, stabbing  the flip chart to make points.

And other word acrobatic feats, like he was reinventing a language. When he finally got his stride, I could see the students glued to his smiley face while he ruthlessly shared observations that mirrored the challenges they faced everyday.

Ham was them, and they were him. And the copywriters club of sorts was born. Which unleashed a torrent of pain points which seemed to have no place to vent for a long time.


Once that was out of the way, Ham started his dance with words using a PowerPoint preso, displacing me again as I had nestled close to the OHP, warming myself as the room grew cold.

Back to wall, wing man.

The first half off the morning session was retrospective as Ham spoke from his experiences, his school, his books, his love for the Malay language, his obsession with headlines and how putting them into funky words in daily speak made him stand far from the maddening crowd. On that same note, all the briefs at the workshop were designed to “selling yourself as a copywriter”.

Intervention by Indhran 

After lunch, master storyteller and prompt engineer Indhran Indhraseghar sizzled his way through what AI and ChatGPT meant to copywriters and how they could use it as their best tool.

Indhran is an AI  magician and he actually wrote his first book in 90 minutes, by making  ChatGPT his bitch.

No fly by night copy

The brief for the exercise was simple. Ham hand distributed one pristine white A3 sheet to each participant. Each had a singular image of a Coke Bottle, Burger, Perfume bottle, iPhone or a Shampoo brand.

All the writers needed to do was to dream up copy that expressed how much they loved the brand featured in the centre of the paper and wax lyrical about the product (without sounding too corny).

The exercise triggered them to write profusely and colourfully, demonstrating they were capable using the right words to effect.

They successfully plotted a storyline in their narrative, with all its twists and turns and more importantly be proud and surprised by what they could achieve. In less than an hour.

Those who wanted to write in BM were encouraged to write in the national language.

Ham was born in Terengganu, so he had zero issues grasping all the nuances, proverbs and double entendres in Malay, while Paul who has spent 40 years in Asia relished every chance to boast his Malay.

The exercise were kept very open and Ham’s tip about thinking inside the box where he drew empty boxes and forced his mind to fill them with headlines, was a technique many were seen using in the workshop.

On the fly

Since I am a flyer, I very quickly hovered near the individual presentations where Ham and Paul closed their eyes as the writers read out their copy.

Was Ham listening intently? I could see his head swimming in all directions when listening to the copy, and most times his head was shaking from left to right, not in rejection but in pure joy, like all expressive Indians, it meant “WOW”!

Co-Reviewer Professor Paul J Loosely appeared to have dozed off when the copy was articulated but he was just very still as he listened to each and every word spoken from the student’s ad.

Both of them seemed to be having fun while the participants worried if their copy was good enough. One of the ads made Ham almost fall off his chair, while Paul started babbling in pure HK Cantonese. It was a like riding a roller-coaster and be entertained, mocked, while staying delightfully surprised.

Ham turned to me and said, “Mr Fly, I know you do not have ears as such, but they are still able to detect sounds through their antennae, so stop pretending you were not enjoying it too.” Summary…

All the writers can write persuasive prose if given the open space and  freedom to do so.

They understood that each word should work towards selling their case in an entertaining way.

They opened their hearts and listened to their own voices when writing and this feeling jumped out in their writing. They put themselves into the story.

After Ham and Paul pored over 35 pieces of work, I sensed that they had just experienced confessions from the heart told lovingly that would leave anyone touched in a special way.

And the best part?

They all enjoyed writing!

Peace never hurt a fly.

Ham thought to himself, “Maybe all these writers just needed was some me or quiet time to hone their craft. And not be thrown into timelines that wanted everything day before yesterday. And hope for miracle and magic. In a world of more adding to more, mediocrity thrives…

Or load them with these tasks and outsource all panic to the writer…

Write captions for 5 pictures in this testimonial brochure featuring happy customers.

Write memes that tell why customers are just going bananas with the latest Sales (find your own gifs and picture:).

Edit this 6-page brief written by the client to make it concise (reference their website).

PLEASE help (begging) write some copy for this birthday card, client’s birthday lunch today so need pronto.

It only 11.30am now and we have to meet the client soon.

After lunch, I need to show them all the other stuff too?

BTW, what do you want me to tapau for you?

The mixed eco-no-money rice is very fresh and hot at 11.45am.

Cannes or AdFest next?

In  conclusion, I feel Ham saw a lot of passion from the participants, he was thrilled with their “word wrestling” and kept emphasising that friction causes magic.

He made a mental note that it was great day and then told himself he learned more than anyone else in the room.

A day of sharing where a combustion of conflict and clarity would create an amazing ad that has yet to be written.

Please note even though it was Ham who conducted the workshop, his alter-ego the Fly On The Wall, wrote the story. Plus, he also had to show his students two things: creativity and word play. “They made me proud on October 25,” he says.

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