irect marketing sounded promising when it first began almost a decade ago. Imagine what could be done with all that information! In the end, all we got was a lot more e-mail.

But imaginative direct marketers like Cross Media Marketing are still pushing the envelope. The three-year-old company has a detailed, 25 million-member database, all who chose to participate, and reaches people by mail, phone, and Internet. “You have to understand the behavior of consumers and then create a market to that need,” says CEO Ron Altbach, who happens to be a former Beach Boy.

It’s working for Cross Media, a public company with revenues of $100 million in 2001 and expected sales of $200 million this year. The company sells more than 100 products, but more than half its business comes from magazine subscriptions. Cross Media uses subscriber information, as well as other volunteered demographic and psychographic information, to build its database and cross-sell. Cross Media most recently added to its cache of data by buying LifeMinders, one of the largest e-mail marketers in the country.

The slumping economy has had little effect on the company, Altbach says. “When times are tough, advertising usually suffers to the benefit of direct marketing.”