A record 33 per cent of PR businesses are carrying out an increased amount of work which they are not paid for, a survey has found.

However, the study by the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) found that the largest consultancies had reported a big increase in budgets from clients. Small companies had seen a drop.

It is accepted within the industry that a wide range of companies over-service - or carry out work which is not costed in a contract.

The study found that 33 per cent of firms in the survey said they had increased the amount of work in that category in the last quarter, compared with 27 per cent in the first quarter of the year.

That represents a record total, a PRCA spokeswoman said.

Richard Houghton, chairman of the PRCA, said the good news was that fees were holding steady. The flip side was clients were demanding more for their money.

He said: "The key for the consultancies is to ensure that budgets are transparent at the beginning of campaigns and extra work gets paid for."

Ultimately good profit margins for the consultancy ensured a more creative and innovative service for the client companies, he said.

Nathan Lane, vice-chairman of the PRCA in the M idlands, was dubious whether the 33 per cent figure was reflected across the region. "To be honest, I'd be surprised. The climate in the region is pretty healthy with a lot of very good companies doing some tremendous work for a range of big name operations," he said.

The report, based on responses to a survey about activities in April-June 2006, was completed by 48 of the PRCA's consultancy members. It showed that optimism for the industry was still high.

In addition, the figures showed that employment prospects in the PR industry remained on the rise with almost two-thirds of consultancies saying they intended to employ full-time staff in the next quarter.

Additionally, half of consultancies said they proposed to increase their graduate recruitment.

Fifty two per cent of respondents reported that budgets committed by clients had increased since being first set and 35 per cent had remained the same.

The number reporting a decline in budgets was down to 13 per cent, from 14 per cent last quarter.

The spokeswoman said: "Contrary to last quarter's figures, the results for quarter two show that it was the very large consultancies who benefited, with 86 per cent reporting that clients had increased budgets, while small consultancies reported a 31 per cent decrease in client budgets. "

Forty four per cent of of consultancies reported that they were optimistic for the prospects of the industry - almost double the number at the end of 2005.

The PRCA Trends Barometer is a quarterly survey of spending and activity within the member consultancies. It covers committed client budgets, the new business environment, agency confidence and optimism and future employment trends.