When Lancôme told Eqal it wanted a celebrity to generate Web buzz about a New Year's product giveaway, the Los Angeles-based media and technology company didn't suggest Julia Roberts, Kate Winslet or Emma Watson.
It turned to makeup blogger Michelle Phan.
She wrote about the "Ultimate Beauty Gift Box Contest," quickly garnering 76, 314 comments and nearly 2,000 Facebook "likes." More than 880,000 Web surfers and fans watched her plug the giveaway on Youtube.
"It was a phenomenally successful campaign," Eqal's vice president of audience and strategy development Jason Matthews said while speaking Friday on a panel about the power of celebrities at the inaugural Silicon Beach Fest event.
"Celeb Power" is one of about three dozen panels to be held during a two-day period in venues across Santa Monica and Venice. Hollywood celebrities—from big-screen movie stars to Youtube and Twitter sensations—are investing in, endorsing, or starting their own startups, apps, Web series and digital projects.
Tech Coast companies need to learn to leverage the star power, which doesn't always mean tapping A-list talent, panelists said.
"It’s not how big a celebrity is; it’s where they have influence," said Ara Katz, who oversees content and celebrity relations at BeachMint.
Katz and Matthews were joined by Ethan Czahor of Jessica Alba's Honest.com; James Ennis of Xomad, a social media company that lists Rihanna on its roster; and digital media strategist Melody Hernandez of Digital Media Mangement.
Hosted by the digital entertainment networking company Digital LA, Silicon Beach Fest is about building a sense of camaraderie among the tech companies taking root in Los Angeles County's beach cities.
A lot has been reported about the influence wielded by tech geeks such as Ashton Kutcher. But in the heart of Tech Coast, Friday's panel offered practical advice for startups not yet in the reach of entertainers as widely popular as Lady Gaga and Jessica Alba: Such big-name celebrities help build audiences and sell products, but they're "definitely not everything."