Gina Clarke always knew she was going to be a journalist: “It was probably the only thing I was certain about.”
Within two months of embarking on a journalism degree, she was freelancing for the BBC. But that was only the start. During her time at the University of Lincoln, she took on a dizzying array of extra-curricular activities.
In addition to writing for media outlets such as The Guardian, Clarke founded her university’s journalism society and was elected to the student union.
And, not one to pass up on an opportunity, she was also a contestant on BBC television quiz show The Weakest Link.
Pizza and beer
A natural connector, Clarke took on an internship to encourage students to become more entrepreneurial. As part of her role, she cultivated relationships with the business community to help nurture budding entrepreneurs. The pizza and beer parties she put on proved to be a great success in bringing students and local businesspeople together.
Bringing everyone to the party is exactly what Clarke ended up doing several years later, as Europe Content Director for fintech event producer Money20/20. As she sees it, “Money20/20 combines those basic principles of good food and drink with the people you want to meet and speakers you’re desperate to hear from. It really takes networking to a whole new level.”
Despite taking on the role in March 2022 – just three months before the annual June conference in Amsterdam – Clarke feels she still managed to put her stamp on the event. In a pioneering move, she pushed the boundaries by inviting content subscription service OnlyFans to make its Money20/20 debut.
Perceived as an adult brand, the company’s presence appeared incongruous at an event dominated by fintech firms. But Clarke recognised the significance of the entertainment industry, which spans sports to podcasting to adult entertainment. She feels she helped demonstrate that “This is a big industry and it can’t be ignored.”
“Just a little bit crazy”
Asked what type of conference content piques her interest, Clarke says she’s always on the lookout for something that’s “Just a little bit crazy.” She explains that as Money20/20 is not your average event, she strives to create an experience that is fresh and different. “A very intimate fireside, or thinking of a new way to use our stages to get information across – that is complete gold to me.”
“There’s always a next time”
Unfortunately, not everyone who wants to speak at the conference can be accommodated. Clarke and her team assess applications strictly on merit and for fit with event themes. While this inevitably results in disappointment for some, a strong idea may provide inspiration for a future theme. With the planning cycle for the three-day conference lasting 14 months, a “No” one year could morph into a speaking opportunity the following year, or even the year after that: “There’s always a next time.”
With planning beginning so far in advance, the team has to constantly think ahead. On the one hand, it’s important to nail down conference content as soon as possible; on the other, it’s vital to build in the flexibility to react to rapidly changing industry trends. As Clarke puts it, “It is a very fine balancing act” … you need to “Have your navel gazing head on.”
So what became of the journalism career that she pursued so doggedly while at university?
Following graduation, she took on a range of online, print and broadcast roles in the UK and Germany, culminating in her last position as Editor-in-Chief of the FinTech Times. Clarke believes the skills she honed inform the work she does today.
When people ask if she’s changed careers from journalism to event production, she says “No!”; she’s still finding the story, putting the sources together and watching the magic happen. She’s just not writing.
As for the biography she wrote: “Cindy Lass: A Colourful Pawtrait”? That’s a story for another day!