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The Business of Meetings

Dec 15, 2020

We are pleased to be speaking to one of the leaders in our industry today! Aaron Bludworth, the President and CEO of Fern, is joining us as our guest for the show. 

Aaron is someone who truly walks the walk when it comes to helping others. In this episode, he gives us some great insights and talks about the impact of trade shows on the economy. He tells us why he believes that face-to-face events will never get replaced with online events, and he also explains how we can help others and what we should and should not worry about if we are unable to change a situation. Stay tuned. We know you’re going to enjoy this conversation!

Aaron Bludworth’s bio:

Aaron Bludworth is the CEO of Fern, a top-three exhibition official services provider in the United States. Fern has operations throughout the U. S. and services nearly 1500 exhibitions annually as well as thousands of other events. Aaron’s career in the industry began in 1992, and before joining Fern in 2008, Aaron held executive positions at Modern Exposition Services and GES. Aaron has been engaged extensively in industry leadership throughout his career. Aaron is a past president of the Exhibition Services & Contractors Association (ESCA), past chair of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), past board member of the International Association of Exhibitions & Events (IAEE), and a former board member of several other industry organizations. Aaron was the inaugural recipient of IAEE’s Humanitarian Award. Aaron is an officer and appointed board member of Tri-ED, an economic development agency in the Cincinnati region. Aaron is a board member of the Next Generation Freedom Fund, an organization focused on reducing intergenerational poverty. Aaron advises and fundraises for poverty relief organizations in Kentucky, New York, Ohio, and Utah.

Getting into the industry

Aaron says that just like everyone else, he got tricked into joining the meetings and events industry. In 1992, he accidentally ended up on the show floor, and he never left.  

What Aaron Bludworth enjoys the most

Aaron Bludworth enjoys privately held events the most, and that is what he has now. He prefers to have the amount of flexibility that he has currently and the ability to determine and drive his destiny over the long term versus the short term decisions that are required in publicly traded or investor-owned companies.

Wear a damn mask!

There is a reasonable argument to be had that shutting down the economy was too much, and it caused more harm than good, but there is no argument for omitting to do basic mitigations, like wearing a mask, distancing, and washing your hands.

Real lives are being affected

Real lives are being impacted every day by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it frustrates Aaron that some people are being undisciplined and careless. He feels that national leaders need to be setting an example for the rest of the country at a state, national, and local level.

Some countries did not shut down 

Countries like Singapore and Taiwan did not shut down their economies, and they kept working with masks. 

Lack of discipline

There has been a lack of discipline in certain areas. So some government leaders are understandably gun-shy about letting things like shows, movies, and events happen because people have shown that they are not responsible enough to do basic things like wearing a mask.

Why trade shows are so important for commerce   

There is no place more effective for commerce to happen than at a trade show or an event. There, hundreds of thousands of buyers can get brought to hundreds of thousands of sellers at one time, and they can enjoy massive selections, and great selling opportunities. They can also build relationships and get entertained.

What people don’t see

Small and medium companies all over the US rely on trade shows as one of their main order-writing opportunities. Most people don’t realize that there is a big problem coming down the road, in the economy, as a result of trade shows not happening due to the coronavirus.


Unlike the commerce piece, much of the education piece can be replaced effectively with virtual technology. 

Meeting safely

Aaron believes that people can meet safely right now. They need to follow the basic mitigation protocols like social distancing, wearing masks, and cleaning their hands and surfaces. 

The industry 

Aaron firmly believes that the industry will regain a similar footing to the one it had in the past at some point in the not too distant future.


People are not too comfortable with the idea of traveling at the moment. Once they start to feel more comfortable about traveling, meetings can start taking place safely.

Fern Health Check

Fern partnered with an app-based technology company called Share My Health a couple of months ago, and they introduced a product called Fern Health Check. It is available today and can be used to test the health of the attendees of events.

Rapid-testing tools

There are also various other rapid-testing tools available currently.

Aaron Bludworth’s thoughts on the future

Aaron Bludworth thinks that we will be using virtual in the way we should have been using it for the last decade when all of this is over. He does not think things are likely to change outside of the trajectory of the way they should have happened.


Aaron thinks that we must find effective ways to use technology in the way that we should have been using it, to bring people to live events. He has no problem with the idea of virtual being the way of the future.

Working from home

If people keep working from home permanently because of changes that have come about due to the coronavirus pandemic, it will make it more desirable for people to meet in person.

Do whatever you can

Although you cannot change the things that are out of your control, you should still be doing everything that you can to accomplish the things that you can do. And we should all help one another in any way that we can.

You should spend very little time worrying and stressing about things out of your control.”

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