The clear majority of PR agencies (71 per cent) rarely or never pay work experience staff, research by PRWeek suggests.
In a poll of 52 UK PR agencies, 11 per cent also admitted that they did not even pay for basic expenses such as travel to and from work.
Some 27 per cent of agencies were happy taking on work experience staff for as long as two months without paying them.
Two agencies even stated that four months without pay would be acceptable.
A mix of small, medium and large agencies from across the UK replied to PRWeek's survey this week. Just 17 per cent said they always paid work experience staff.
Those that did pay work experience staff paid an average of £53 per day.
Responding to the findings, PRCA director general Francis Ingham said paid work experience was the 'ideal', and that the minimum offered should be paid travel expenses.
The research revealed that while all agencies put work experience people to work on admin support, many also came up with tactical ideas (70 per cent), phoned journalists (40 per cent) and wrote client reports (32 per cent) and press releases (22 per cent).
Henry's House MD Ginny Paton revealed that while the agency rarely paid work experience staff, she had taken on up to 20 people in such placements over the past year.
Paton justified the practice: 'It's mutually beneficial. The people who are prepared to get work experience are setting themselves up to become more employable.
'One recent work experience girl ... ended up receiving three job offers.'
Most agencies (55 per cent) have taken on more than five work experience staff over the past year, while one agency has taken on more than 40 in total.
Meanwhile, a straw poll of in-house teams showed that most took on unpaid work experience people for between two weeks and a month, and had employed up to five over the past year.
HOW I SEE IT
- Daljit Bhurji, MD, Diffusion
The practice of young people being forced to work for free, for months on end, with a promise of a real job that never materialises, must stop. Agencies need to stop using terms such as 'work experience' and 'internships' as an excuse for exploiting young people desperate to enter the PR industry.
- Chris Wood, MD, Cake
We get hundreds of requests every year for work experience placements. They're encouraged to do so by their colleges. Why don't we pay them? Because there's no direct commercial benefit in having people on work experience. The benefits are largely with the work experience people.
71% of PR agencies rarely or never pay for work experience
£53 average daily pay rate for those who do pay
11% of agencies do not even offer basic expenses
42% say two weeks is acceptable without pay
40% use work experience staff to phone journalists.