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Last week's special Agency Report issue was our 50th annual survey on the financial fortunes of the advertising agency business. From the beginning, these reports have stirred controversy.

Initially, some agencies bridled at our insolence in seeking financial data. In ensuing years, as our reports grew from a single chart to multiple listings and became the benchmark advertisers and others used to rank ad agencies, controversies involved accounting practices and treatment of subsidiaries and part-owned partners. And the issue of agencies padding figures to move ahead in the rankings has always been with us.

The first report, covering the year 1944, put to rest disputed billings claims troubling some major rivals of J. Walter Thompson Co. We checked the figures and learned Thompson's foreign billings actually were more than it claimed, though we still ranked Thompson at $72 million-and as the largest among the 22 U.S. agencies in that first report, with collective billings of $515 million.

Last week's report covered more than 600 U.S. agencies and 1,100 foreign-based shops.

Today, the Agency Report is widely accepted and put to broad use. The media, and the agencies themselves, quote Ad Age as the source of industry figures; publicly held shops generally use our data in their own government-mandated 10-K reports.

As agencies move beyond traditional mass media to help market their clients' wares, more complex accounting and accountability problems will no doubt arise. So in moving into the next 50 years of Agency Reports, we'll continue to refine our procedures to present the most accurate picture possible of the agency scene.

And the complaint window will remain open.

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