Once upon a time, John Spelich was the king of San Diego PR. Today he’s in a war with Google, fighting on behalf of one of China’s biggest internet companies over the future of the Android operating system. The high-tech saga begins in 1999, when Spelich, a veteran of the Ford Motor Company, was named head of public relations for high-flying Gateway Computers, a PC maker founded and then run by La Jolla millionaire Ted Waitt.
Only a year into that stint, Spelich left to join Stoorza Communications as vice president, becoming soon afterwards president. San Diego’s biggest public relations operation of the era, Stoorza employed a dazzling roster of political talent, including Tom Shepard, the GOP guru now working for Democratic congressman and mayoral candidate Bob Filner.
When Stoorza hit a downdraft in 2001 and began selling off its statewide network of offices, Spelich defected to the San Diego Unified School District. “This is something that is really close to my heart,” he told PR Week about his new job as executive director of communications and community relations. “We had a pretty intense year at Stoorza, and I feel comfortable leaving, given the state the company is in right now.” Stoorza folded six months later.
School superintendent Alan Bersin, who was fighting with the teachers union, persuaded the school board to pay Spelich an annual $124,000 and put him in charge of the district’s other two public relations men, ex–Los Angeles Times reporter David Smollar and former Channel 39 news executive Tom Mitchell. (After Bersin was let go in 2005, it was revealed that he had used a slush fund provided by members of the downtown business establishment to give Spelich an extra $25,000 “signing bonus.”)
Despite the cash, Spelich was soon out the door, making tracks in June 2002 for the Walt Disney Company. “I think there was this impression that I was brought here to convince the media things were going great,” he told the Union-Tribune after his hasty exit from the school district. “Truth is, I spent 80 to 90 percent of my time talking to parents.” He remained with Disney the better part of a decade.
These days Spelich is spinning for Chinese internet giant Alibaba. Google says the Asian company has badly modified Google’s cell-phone operating system, Android, into something the Chinese call Aliyun. “Non-compatible versions of Android, like Aliyun, weaken the ecosystem,” a Google executive recently insisted. Replied Spelich, whose title at Alibaba is vice president of international corporate affairs: “Aliyun OS is not part of the Android ecosystem, so of course Aliyun OS is not and does not have to be compatible with Android.”
Spelich and his wife Lacey Logan, a onetime PR woman for Stroh’s beer, are still based in San Diego, where they run Logan Spelich Associates, providing “clients around the world with solution-oriented strategic counsel and reputation management,” according to the company’s website. “Whether you are looking to start a new business; expand your existing business; contemplating or fending off a merger or acquisition; or are facing an impending issue or crisis, LSA can help.…” Contacted by phone at their San Diego office, Lacey Logan said her husband was aboard a plane returning from Asia and could not immediately be reached for comment.