UK firms going public have a choice between public offers and placings. This choice has important implications in terms of who bears the risk of the issue failing and of its costs. We find that firms with higher ex ante uncertainty choose a placing contract. Highly reputable sponsors and creditor screening serve as signals of firm quality, enabling such firms to choose a public offer. Large and multinational firms usually choose a public offer whereas there is some evidence that very small issues choose a placing. Finally, the 'hotness' of the IPO market increases the probability of placings. © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.